"I love it," said Northumberland Commonwealth's Attorney R. Michael McKenney.
"The grand jury allows us to take evidence under oath and to preserve that evidence by transcript.It's also a venue for local authorities to cooperate in drug investigations." McKenney
said the grand jury subpoenas every person convicted of a drug crime in the Northern Neck area and questions them under oath about their drug sources and friends.
The grand jury also compels testimony from probationers and parolees who test positive for drugs, he
cited the case of James Aric Noel as a grand-jury success story.
...Noel, McKenney said, was a Northumberland drug dealer with ties to Newport News and New York City.
The recent Northumberland case against Robio Severino is "a perfect example of how effectively the grand jury can operate," McKenney
Undercover agents made their first purchase of cocaine from Severino on Feb. 8.McKenney
obtained indictments from the grand jury Feb. 13.Severino was arrested Feb. 19 on cocaine, concealed-weapon and immigration charges.
Without the special grand jury, McKenney
said, Northumberland police would not have been able to obtain its indictments against Severino until the April 22 meeting of the Circuit Court's regular, quarterly grand jury.McKenney
said the Northern Neck suffers from "serious crack-cocaine issues involving groups that might be called gangs in other places."
With about 200 indictments a year, the grand jury adds a significant number of cases to local court dockets."It's almost like adding another county to the caseload," one court official said.
In 2001, the Circuit Court in Essex heard 222 criminal cases; Northumberland heard 285. McKenney
expects the grand jury to issue 27 indictments today for alleged drug crimes in Northumberland.
Middleton and his deputies "couldn't be better partners," said McKenney