BENTON - The court debunked a "street myth" and sent a clear message to drug dealers Thursday by sentencing Lascotto Simpson to 10 years in prison on his first felony drug conviction.
Simpson, 18, of Sikeston was arrested July 1 in a sting for selling $20 worth of crack cocaine to a confidential informant April 13 at Kendall and Delmar. The transaction was videotaped. Because the drug deal was within 1,000 feet of public housing, he was charged with and then convicted of a class A felony which can carry a sentence of 10-30 years or life in prison.
At first it appeared as if Simpson's sentence hearing was going to be just another routine action by the court.
David A. Dolan, circuit judge for the 33rd Judicial Court, and Simpson's lawyer, Frank Siebert, discussed the findings of the pre-sentence investigation after which Siebert asked that Simpson be placed on probation.
Then Scott County Prosecutor Paul Boyd did something completely unexpected.
"There is a myth on the street that when you get busted for the first time you just get 'paper,'" Boyd said. "I think that myth has to be stopped."
"Getting paper" is street slang for being put on probation.
The prosecutor said while authorities continue to arrest and prosecute young men ages 16 to 19 for selling crack for bigger dealers, "they are still selling this stuff because they think they're just going to get some paper," Boyd said.
Boyd asked Dolan to show that drug dealers are not guaranteed probation on their first arrest and that "they will go to prison."
Simpson's lawyer said his client only got caught making a single $20 sale of crack cocaine.
Boyd said he suspects Simpson made more than the single sale he was charged with. "Just because he got caught once does not mean he was not doing it for a period of time," he said. "If we'd been back 20 minutes later, we probably could have caught him making another sale."
Boyd asked Dolan to send the message that "drugs are not going to be tolerated in this county."
"I'm not going to give him paper," Dolan said. Addressing the defendant, Dolan said: "Mr. Simpson, I guess you're just going to be the first one," and sentenced him to 10 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Later while discussing the sentence outside the courthouse with Simpson's family and friends, Siebert said he was very surprised with the decision because Probation and Parole recommended probation and it was Simpson's first felony offense.
"He is not substance abuser as determined by the Department of Probation and Parole," Siebert said. "I wonder what the purpose of asking for a pre-sentence investigation is if you're not going to take the recommendation."
Siebert added: "If it was in an affluent subdivision in Sikeston, he would never have faced such (serious) charges."
He said his client's only prior convictions were for two city charges - shoplifting and driving off without paying for gas.
"He had no previous felonies, no prison time," Siebert said, "no prior opportunity to be placed on probation."
Siebert said he may file an after-sentence motion and that this is the first time a recommendation from a Probation and Parole pre-sentence investigation was not followed "that I know of."
Siebert also said he likes and respects Dolan, "but I don't think it was a proper decision."
Boyd said Simpson is not just being picked out as a singular example.
"He was the first one that came through on an A felony sale near schools or public housing," Boyd said. "I expect there will be at least 20 others, if not more."
Those who sell or manufacture drugs "step into another league," Boyd said.