Attorneys on both sides of entertainment promoter Rashad Muhammad's drug smuggling case used news of Osama bin Laden's death to ask for "justice" in their opening arguments in federal court Monday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Modica outlined a case with DNA evidence linking 40-year-old Muhammad to a high-speed chase in a minivan that authorities found abandoned with hundreds of pounds of marijuana inside. Modica described drug ledgers discovered in an alleged supplier's home near the Mexican border in Arizona and Rubbermaid containers filled with pot at Muhammad's business in North Charleston -- along with scales, bags and guns.
"Today is clearly a historical day as it relates to justice," Modica said. "Justice isn't one side or the other. Justice exists in a plane by itself."
Muhammad's attorney, Russell Mace, instead described a case marred by "a lack of evidence and inconsistency in witnesses." Touching on some of the prosecution's points, he explained that Muhammad strayed from his marriage and fathered a child in Arizona, where he also ran a clothing business.
"He was in the business of selling clothes, not in the business of selling marijuana," Mace said. "The government is going to put before you so much information to try to overwhelm your common sense. This is a simple marijuana case. How many witnesses do you need?"
The lengthy witness list means the trial could last a week and a half, a fact that U.S. District Judge P. Michael Duffy took seriously when a juror failed to show and delayed the trial's start by more than an hour. After court officials could not reach the woman through repeated phone calls, deputy U.S. Marshals retrieved her.
Duffy made her apologize to the other 13 jurors and returned her, in shackles, to a holding cell for hours until court recessed for the day. He emphasized that the aforementioned "justice" depended upon jurors doing their job.
Muhammad faces 25 years to life in prison on five counts related to the alleged drug trafficking. A well-known member of the local community, he ran a company called The Invisible Men Entertainment, along with a Masonic lodge and a colorectal cancer foundation -- all from an office on Air Park Road in North Charleston.
Prosecutors contend that investigators captured surveillance of a drug shipment arriving at that office in August 2008 and then Muhammad driving away in a rented minivan later found abandoned and loaded with about 275 pounds of pot. Mace maintains that Muhammad was in the Pennsylvania Poconos the very next day and speaking at a Masonic convention.
Two brothers stand trial with Muhammad, each charged with two counts related to the alleged drug smuggling.
Marco Torres, an attorney representing Gary Milford, said his client was not transporting drugs but merely helping another member of the Masonic lodge move after an eviction, when investigators recorded him unloading a truck at the Air Park Road office. Although questioned in 2008, Milford was not arrested until more than two years later.
"By then there was no more lodge, and Gary Milford had long forgotten about this incident," Torres said.
Pam Polzin, who represents brother Damon Milford, laid out a similar argument, saying, "There can only be one version of the truth."
All three men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.