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Little Rock man guilty on gun, drug charges

by Dale Ellis | October 20, 2021 at 3:44 a.m.
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A Little Rock man charged in federal court with weapons and drug violations was found guilty Tuesday afternoon after a jury of seven women and five men deliberated just over two hours at the conclusion of the two-day trial.

Alonzo Beard, 37, was arrested by Little Rock police in August 2018 on numerous felony and misdemeanor charges, including weapon possession, possession of a controlled substance with purpose to deliver, simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms, endangering the welfare of a minor, resisting arrest and failure to appear. His case moved to federal court when he was indicted by a federal grand jury on Dec. 4, 2019.

At the time of Beard's arrest, records indicated police found a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol and just over 3 ounces of marijuana packaged in 48 individual plastic bags inside his car with his two small children.

During a pre-trial conference before jury selection on Monday, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller ruled in favor of a motion by Beard to represent himself during the trial. His court-appointed counsel, Charles Hancock of Little Rock, continued to assist Beard during the proceedings but did not take an active role in Beard's defense.

[RELATED: Click here for interactive map + full coverage of crime in Little Rock »]

Prosecuting the case was Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Crews, assisted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Givens.

Jurors heard two days of testimony from three Little Rock patrol officers who arrested Beard, a detective who interviewed Beard after his arrest, and a chemist with the Arkansas Crime Lab who analyzed the marijuana seized from Beard when he was arrested.

The three arresting officers testified that they were dispatched to Zips Car Wash on South Shackleford Road in response to a 911 caller who said a Black man with dreadlocks driving a white car had a gun and was causing a disturbance. When they arrived, all three officers said they saw Beard, who is Black with long dreadlocks leaning against a white Chrysler 200 yelling at employees of the car wash.

When they approached him, the officers testified, Beard leaned into the back seat of the car and they saw him rummaging around in the back seat. After pulling him from the car, they saw two toddlers in the back seat with the pistol lying on the seat between them. A search of the car turned up just under 4 ounces of marijuana packaged in 48 individual plastic baggies.

Ashley Focke, the Crime Lab chemist, testified that one of the baggies contained nearly 5.3 grams of marijuana, which was confirmed through three different tests. She said the remaining 47 baggies, although not tested, appeared to contain similar amounts of the same substance.

When asked why she didn't test each baggie, Focke replied that to maintain efficiency and to get test results back more quickly, the policy of the Crime Lab is to test only to the highest potential charge. She said the way state law is written, under 4 ounces of marijuana would be one charge.

"I didn't know it was going federal at the time," she said.

Beard hinged his defense on the fact that after he was arrested, Little Rock police had not preserved the dashcam video from the patrol cars driven by the officers who responded, the 911 recording was not preserved and the gun was not analyzed for fingerprints or DNA. In cross examining the officers on Monday, Beard repeatedly asked each one why they didn't preserve or gather such evidence and each told him that was beyond the authority of patrol officers.

"It's not my responsibility," Beard repeated three times to the jury in his closing statement. "You heard that from all the government witnesses that were directly involved in my arrest. ... It's not my responsibility to preserve the best evidence."

Beard also touched on the fact that the charges he faced at the state level were dismissed.

"No one saw me with a gun. I never had a gun. In fact, the state dismissed the endangering the welfare of a minor charge," he said. "Would they have done that if they thought I had a gun?"

In his closing statement, Givens acknowledged the lack of video evidence from the scene but he said the testimony of the officers served to illustrate how the incident transpired.

"When the police got there they found exactly what they were told they would find," he said. "The gun was in plain view, such plain view the children were reaching for it."

But, Givens said, the gun itself was not the issue. The issue, he said, was Beard's past criminal convictions that prohibited him from possessing a gun.

"People have the right to keep a gun for protection," he said. "He did not. He forfeited that right when he was convicted of attempted robbery."

During rebuttal, Crews hit upon the 48 individual baggies of marijuana.

"He's got 47 bags under his seat and a 48th one in the center console," Crews said. "He wants to act like it's a big thing of medicine. It's marijuana. ... What is Mr. Beard asking you to believe? That he packed up multiple days' use in one bag? That he smokes 4 or 5 pounds a day? I don't know."

As to why the state charges were dismissed, Crews said when the federal government adopts a case from the state, the state routinely dismisses its charges in the matter.

"Use your common sense," he said to the jury. "Is it fair to have two different government entities prosecuting you at the same time? ... They dismissed the case after we indicted him."

Following final instructions to the jury, Miller released the panel to begin deliberations just after 1 p.m. Just before 3:30, jurors notified Miller a verdict had been reached. After the courtroom reassembled, Miller read the verdicts. At the first guilty verdict, Beard's head dropped slightly and he slowly shook his head from side to side, his only outward reaction to the verdicts.

At Beard's request, Miller polled the individual jurors. All confirmed the verdicts.

Miller told Beard that he will be sentenced after completion of a pre-sentence investigation by the U.S. probation office, a process that normally takes between 12 and 16 weeks.

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