Jul. 22—A woman who prosecutors said served as a drug mule for a heroin trafficking organization in Westmoreland County that was conceived of as a way to pay a convicted drug dealer's legal expenses was herself convicted Wednesday.
A jury deliberated about two hours before finding Sade Franklin, 34, formerly of Harrisburg, guilty of drug delivery, racketeering and conspiracy counts.
Franklin, however, was not in court to hear the verdict. For a time, she appeared to have absconded after court staff and defense attorney Jack Manderino were unable to locate or contact her to return to the courtroom, prompting Common Pleas Judge Tim Krieger to issue an arrest warrant.
Franklin, who left the courthouse when the jury started its deliberations, reappeared about an hour after the verdict was announced. Manderino said he gave court staff an incorrect telephone number for Franklin.
The judge vacated the warrant and ruled Franklin, who lives in Georgia, can remain free on a $100,000 bond pending a sentencing hearing.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Lazar said Franklin could serve a state prison sentence, which includes multiple years behind bars, as a result of her conviction.
Franklin told the judge she is a mother to four children, that she works two jobs and needs to remain free in order to make arrangements for her family.
"I am not running. I will be back for the sentencing," Franklin said.
Prosecutors contended Franklin made at least four trips into Westmoreland County over four months in 2016 to delivery heroin bought in Patterson, N.J. The drugs were brought to convicted dealer Chauncy Bray, 31, of Jeannette, as part of a scheme to raise money for a another convicted drug dealer serving 30 years in prison to hire an appeals lawyer.
At least three transactions took place in the parking lot in front of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Hempfield, according to the prosecution.
Bray testified Tuesday that Franklin brought him about 180 bricks of heroin to sell at the behest of James Moore. Bray and Moore, 34, were among more than two dozen people charged in 2011 with operating a multi-million-dollar crack cocaine ring in Westmoreland County.
Bray testified against Moore at his 2013 trial.
The prosecution claimed Moore, who in 2016 was an inmate at the SCI-Smithfield, Huntingdon County, met with Franklin in person and contacted her by phone and email to arrange the drug deals with Bray.
"This was an interstate drug trafficking network with the goal to get himself out of jail," Lazar told jurors in his closing argument.
Franklin did not testify during the two-day trial. A recorded confession she gave to police in 2017 was played for jurors.
Manderino asked jurors to find Franklin not guilty because there was no physical evidence that supported the charges. Drugs from the suspected trafficking operation were never recovered by police. Manderino also claimed Bray could not be trusted.
"It was utterly unbelievable. Every time he gets in trouble, he turns around and blames other people," Manderino said.
Drug charges filed against Bray and Moore related to the 2016 trafficking allegations are still pending.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .