I-10 driver acquitted of heroin charge mandatory life sentence avoided

I-10 driver acquitted of heroin charge mandatory life sentence avoided

St. Martinville, LA – A 34 yr old Mexican man, accused of possessing more than 10 pounds of heroin, was acquitted Friday by a St Martin Parish jury. Edgar Guzman, who had never before been arrested, was found not guilty by a vote of eleven to one and avoided a mandatory life sentence.

Guzman, a resident of New York City and a Mexican national, was arrested in March of 2000 after sheriff’s deputies stopped him on I-10 near Breaux Bridge for following too close. The deputies found over ten pounds of heroin, with a street value of over $2,500,000.00 on Guzman’s back seat in 2 gift wrapped packages. Unable to speak English, Guzman explained through an interpreter that he was merely doing a favor for a high school friend by delivering the gifts to the friend’s wife in New Jersey for her newborn child. Guzman had been visiting Puebla, Mexico with his parents and drove back to New York alone in his parent’s vehicle. He claimed he was unaware of the contents of the packages.

A drug sniffing canine alerted to the heroin in two packages covered with a strong odor of cologne, according to the deputies. The smell of cologne made the deputies suspicious, they testified, since such an odor is commonly used to mask the smell of narcotics. But his attorney, Thomas Calogero of New Orleans, argued that the smell of cologne came from Guzman and not the packages, since he ordinarily wears heavy cologne. Calogero produced a gift bag, toys, and baby clothes from inside of one of the packages and argued that any trace of cologne on the bag should have been tested or preserved by police. Police discarded the gift bag, toys, and baby clothes and left them in Guzman’s seized vehicle. The items, retrieved by Guzman’s sister two months after the arrest, had no smell of cologne on them, she testified. Police failed to check for fingerprints from inside of the wrapped packages as well, argued Calogero.

The prosecution relied on a receipt found in Guzman’s wallet to show that he must have known of the contents of the packages. The receipt showed that Guzman had purchased Paco Rabanne cologne from Foley’s department store in Laredo,Texas, five days prior to his arrest. One of the gift wrapped boxes was a Paco Rabanne box, which contained most of the heroin. Guzman testified that his friend could have bought his own Paco Rabanne or could have taken his discarded box when they shopped together at Foley’s. His old friend, whom he “never imagined would do something like this to him” was using him as an unwitting drug courier, he testified. Guzman and his sister both testified that they made efforts to locate the friend and his wife but were unsuccessful. Guzman also testified that the detectives originally agreed to let him deliver the packages to their destination, with police assistance, so that the truth would be known, but that they backed out of their agreement.

Guzman and his sister wept as the verdict of not guilty was read. He spent over 14 months in the St Martin Parish Prison because he was unable to post bond which had been set at $2,500,000.00. Calogero also told the jury that Guzman took no part in the inmate uprising at the St. Martinville prison where several deputies were held hostage, in 1999.

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