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Court reverses convictions of alleged “major player” in Watertown drug trade

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A Watertown man described by prosecutors as a “major player” in the Jefferson County drug trade has had two felony cocaine-possession convictions overturned by a state appellate court, and a new trial has been ordered in the matter.

Stanley R. Kims, 28, is serving a 16-year prison sentence at Attica Correctional Facility for February 2011 convictions on charges of first- and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree criminal possession of marijuana and two counts of second-degree criminally using drug paraphernalia.

The convictions came following a jury trial in Jefferson County Court. He had been accused of having an estimated $50,000 worth of cocaine and 6 pounds of marijuana at an apartment at 697 LeRay St. in April 2010.

In a decision released Friday, the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, reversed the cocaine-possession charges, ruling that Mr. Kims was not “in close proximity” to the drugs when members of the Metro-Jefferson Drug Task Force searched the residence and found 10 ounces of cocaine and $27,000 in cash in a safe.

Task force members and parole officers had gone to the residence believing that Mr. Kims, a parolee, had moved there without notifying parole that he no longer lived on Olive Street. According to trial testimony, as police approached Mr. Kims and Robert I. Sawyer as the men left the residence, the two tried to flee the scene in a vehicle in which cocaine allegedly was found.

Police then conducted a “protective” search of the property, finding Jeffrey D. Fineout sleeping on a couch and the cocaine in plain view in the kitchen. A search warrant was subsequently obtained, with the cocaine seized and the marijuana located.

A Watertown detective testified that the amount of cocaine was the largest he had seen while executing more than 100 search warrants, leading him to believe the residence was being used as a “stash house” or “safe house,” a residence where large quantities of drugs or cash are stored, but where only trusted people are allowed to enter or know of its existence and where low-level drug transactions seldom occur.

Mr. Kims appealed the conviction, arguing that the jury was improperly charged with what is commonly known as “room presumption,” a situation in which narcotics are found in plain view and everybody “in close proximity” to the drugs is presumed to knowingly possess them.

The appellate court considered the interpretation of the “close proximity” language in the state penal law and ruled that because Mr. Kims was not in the apartment at the time the drugs were found, the jury should not have been asked to apply the “room presumption” law to his activity. The court ruled that the error was not harmless and reversed the conviction.

The court did not specify in its decision why the same interpretation was not applied to the marijuana-possession and drug-paraphernalia charges, as those convictions were affirmed.

In a separate ruling Friday, the court affirmed convictions against Mr. Fineout on charges of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree criminal possession of marijuana and first-degree perjury and two counts of second-degree criminally using drug paraphernalia. He also was convicted of the charges following a trial, separately from Mr. Kim’s.

Mr. Fineout, 29, Great Bend, is serving a 13-year prison sentence at Attica. Mr. Sawyer, 25, Manhattan, served 10 months at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building for a guilty plea to third-degree attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance. He testified against both Mr. Kims and Mr. Fineout at trial.

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