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United States v. Sawyer

March 12, 2009


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. IP-06-126-CR-04-M/F-Larry J. McKinney, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge.


Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and FLAUM and MANION, Circuit Judges.

Terri Sawyer was convicted for participating in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Her appeal primarily rests on the district court's refusal to instruct the jury on the elements of a duress defense, although she also raises questions about her sentence and certain evidentiary rulings as well.

For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment and sentence of the district court.

I. Background

In February 2008, at the conclusion of a two-day trial, a federal jury convicted Terri Sawyer of conspiracy to deliver 500 or more grams of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine. Sawyer presented a very different account of the events leading to that conviction than the government. She claims she was relentlessly threatened by Seferino Rodriguez, one of the govern-ment's witnesses at trial, because of a previous drug debt owed by her ex-boyfriend. To pay off this debt, she claims that Rodriguez forced her to find meth buyers. The government's evidence at trial indicated that Sawyer was a willing participant in a meth-dealing operation, and that she purchased meth from Rodriguez and was responsible for introducing various buyers and suppliers.

Seferino Rodriguez offered testimony in support of the government's case. Rodriguez testified that he began dealing meth in January 2005, when Sawyer asked him to sell it to her. He had met Sawyer a few months before, because Rodriguez had sold marijuana to Sawyer's boyfriend Ryan Beauchamp. After Sawyer asked him for meth, Rodriguez met with a man known as Gavacho at a nightclub, and Gavacho agreed to sell him meth. Rodriguez testified that he set up his first sale to Sawyer about a week after this. Continuing for the next six months, Rodriguez sold meth to Sawyer, usually once or twice per week. In late June or early July 2005, Sawyer introduced Rodriguez to a customer of hers, Donald Pruett. Rodriguez testified that when he met "Donnie" (as Rodriguez knew him) they made a deal to buy meth. Shortly after this sale, Rodriguez went to Texas for his sister's birthday. In his absence, Gavacho sold meth directly to Sawyer. Rodriguez went back to selling meth to Sawyer when he returned to Indiana in September 2005.

Some time after Rodriguez returned to Indiana, Sawyer introduced him to Gregory Vanes. According to his trial testimony, Sawyer introduced Vanes as her partner in meth dealing. For the next few months, until police officers arrested him in February 2006, Rodriguez sold meth to both Sawyer and Vanes. Rodriguez delivered the drugs once or twice per week, in pound quantities. During this time, Sawyer introduced Rodriguez to two other customers, Jason Swearingen and Heather Crowder; as a result of these introductions, Rodriguez sold meth to both of them.

In January 2006, Sawyer and Vanes told Rodriguez that their partnership had ended over a financial dispute. Rodriguez continued selling meth to Sawyer for the next month or so. He was arrested on February 13, 2006, by Indianapolis police officers while in possession of nine ounces of meth. At the time of his arrest, he was on his way to complete a deal with Sawyer.

The government's case included several additional witnesses. Vanes testified that Sawyer introduced him to Rodriguez as a supplier of methamphetamine and that he and Sawyer bought meth from Rodriguez regularly after that meeting; Vanes admitted to personally receiving five or six one-pound shipments. At the same time, Vanes was also buying meth from another source in five or ten pound shipments; he testified that he would deliver two to five pounds to Sawyer after each delivery from this other source.

Donald Pruett testified that he began buying meth from Sawyer in February 2005, and bought meth from her about once a month for the next six months. Eventually, Pruett learned of Sawyer's suppliers, including "Seferino" (presumably Rodriguez), "Gordo," "Joker," and "Gavacho." Pruett stopped buying from Sawyer when she arranged a drug transaction with her suppliers that she did not show up for; after that, Pruett bought directly from Sawyer's suppliers. Jason Swearingen testified that he met Sawyer in August 2004, and began buying meth from her about a month later. He and his girlfriend, Heather Crowder, bought about one pound of meth per week from Sawyer. Crowder testified that she met Sawyer around the same time as Swearingen, and that Sawyer and Swearingen arranged a meth deal at that first meeting. After that, she and Swearingen regularly bought one-pound quantities of meth; many of these deals took place in Indianapolis, where Crowder was introduced to some of Sawyer's suppliers. The government's case also included a recorded phone call between Sawyer and Crowder that took place after Swearingen had been arrested on drug charges; in that call, Crowder asked "when do we go back to work," meaning, she testified, when they could go back to selling meth.

The government also presented the testimony of Special Agent Michael Davis of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Davis testified that he executed the search warrant on Sawyer's home in Richmond, Indiana in November 2006.

In that search, law enforcement officers recovered a small amount of meth, approximately $11,746 in currency, and weights for a scale.

Sawyer presented a very different version of events. She testified that she began dating Ryan Beauchamp in 2004; eventually, both of them began to use methamphetamine. Sawyer testified that Beauchamp was friends with Rodriguez, and that the two of them dealt marijuana and cocaine together. This business relationship soured when Beauchamp ripped Rodriguez off in a drug deal, however. (Rodriguez, when asked about this deal during his testimony at trial, said that Beauchamp had been assaulted and robbed after Rodriguez fronted him fifteen pounds of marijuana; he testified that he did not try to collect on this debt.) Sawyer testified, however, that Rodriguez began threatening Beauchamp after that ...

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