A Miller County, Ark., jury sentenced a Delaware man to eight years in prison Wednesday for attempting to smuggle approximately 50 pounds of marijuana from Austin, Texas, to his home.
Robert Hoey, 36, and his cousin, Harry Taylor, 35, were arrested Feb. 15, 2013, after a traffic stop on Interstate 30 in Miller County by Arkansas State Police Trooper Bernard Pettit. Pettit testified Tuesday he suspected the men carried drugs because they were unusually nervous, avoided eye contact and gave conflicting accounts of the reason for their travel.
Hoey claimed he’d gone to Austin to visit a girlfriend who thought she was carrying his baby while Taylor claimed he was in the Lone Star State to visit a great aunt, whose name he couldn’t remember. When both men refused to let Pettit search their rented red Chevrolet Impala, Pettit contacted the Texarkana, Ark., Police Department for help. TAPD canine Gus alerted to the presence of narcotics and inside the car’s trunk officers found several tightly compacted bales of marijuana.
Taylor pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver in August 2013 as part of a plea bargain that included a six-year prison term. Taylor is currently on parole.
Taylor testified Tuesday that his cousin, with whom he lived then and with whom he lives now, didn’t know a thing about the drugs in the car’s trunk. But prosecutors refuted that assertion by showing that Hoey bought one-way plane tickets and rented the Impala Feb. 14, 2014, with unlimited miles and paid a fee to drop it off at a location far from the one where he rented it.
“Why would you rent a car and drive when it’s cheaper to fly,” argued Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black, who tried the case with the help of Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeffery Sams. “You do that because you know you’re hauling drugs.”
During Hoey’s punishment phase Wednesday, jurors learned that the Delaware native has been arrested at least 20 times in his home state for drug offenses but has never been convicted. Hoey, who didn’t testify during the first phase of his trial, did take the stand during the punishment trial, to attempt to sway the jury into believing he’d been mistakenly convicted.
But Hoey’s testimony didn’t convince the jury. They sentenced him to two years more than Taylor got as part of a plea bargain. Ironically, as a first-time offender, Hoey may spend less time behind bars than his felonious cousin.
Current policy in Arkansas calls for the release of non-violent, first-time offenders after 120 days. Black said Hoey served 108 after his arrest before he managed to post bond. That means Hoey could technically be released after 18 days.
The jury also ordered Hoey to pay a $2,500 fine.