WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a Silver Spring man’s argument that his conviction for drug trafficking should be overturned because an expert witness lied and his own lawyer was too psychologically unstable to argue his case effectively.
Porteal Groom contends he was unfairly convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison because a prosecution expert on narcotics distribution lied in court. The witness, ex-Washington, D.C., detective Johnny St. Valentine Brown, has since been sentenced to two years in prison for perjury.
Groom also said his own lawyer at trial was suffering from severe depression and other psychological problems that hampered his defense. The lawyer, Thomas Dyson, has been disbarred in the District and later pleaded guilty to wiretap fraud.
“It’s unusual to have an admitted perjurer police officer and a disbarred lawyer involved in the same case,” said Mark Kadish, Groom’s current attorney. “Both were convicted of the offenses affecting Groom’s case.”
It was the second Supreme Court denial for Groom, whose appeal on a number of “various trial errors” was rejected in 1998. The problems with Dyson and Brown came to light after that rejection.
Officials at the U.S. District Attorney’s office in Greenbelt declined to comment on the case last week.
Groom and co-defendant Donald Wardrick were convicted in 1996 of orchestrating a drug-smuggling operation using couriers to transport heroin from Pakistan to this country. The defendants were caught in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting in 1995 and found guilty in June 1996 of conspiracy to distribute heroin, possession with intent to distribute and illegal importation of the drug.
During trial, Brown testified about the “profile” of a narcotics distributor, which Groom and Wardrick seemed to fit. Brown identified himself in court as a former cop with knowledge about drug trafficking — which was true — but also claimed to be a “board-certified pharmacist” with a pharmacy degree from Howard University, which was false.
Brown has since admitted to perjury. In 2000, he was convicted in federal court in Washington of having testified falsely about his credentials in numerous criminal cases.
Maryland officials could not say how many trials might have been tainted by Brown’s testimony. The U.S. District Attorney’s office in Washington, however, said 43 criminals have appealed their convictions in the District because of Brown’s false testimony. So far, 25 have lost their appeals; seven have prevailed.
Groom also claimed that his lawyer, Thomas Dyson, had effectively sabotaged his chances at trial due to psychological problems and poor performance. He said in court documents that, unknown to him, Dyson was suffering from depression during his trial, neglected his work, lost money because of it and stole from other clients to pay off his debts.
Court documents said that, according to a report from Dyson’s psychiatrist, Dyson said he could no longer find the will to work and “wanted to just give up.” The report said Dyson admitted to “lying to clients about work being done that wasn’t done,” stealing from clients and a host of other failures.
Groom lists several oversights on Dyson’s part during his 1996 trial, including his failure to cross-examine Pakistani witnesses and to prevent certain witnesses’ testimonies in court.
But U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte last May denied Groom’s motion to set aside his sentence.
Messitte found that while Brown’s presumed credentials were false, the basis of the his relevant expertise “had nothing to do with holding an advanced degree in pharmacy, but was based instead on his actual experience as a detective and consultant.” And he found no reason why Groom’s attorneys could not have discovered the truth about Brown during trial, as another lawyer eventually discovered it during routine pre-trial investigations.
Messitte also said that Groom’s charges about Dyson did not meet the legal standard needed to prove ineffective counsel. Regardless of a lawyer’s performance, Messitte wrote, “a petitioner may prevail only if there is also a reasonable probability that, but for the counsel’s errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.”
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Messitte’s opinion in December.