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Opening statements heard in 'kingpin' drug trial
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Opening statements heard in 'kingpin' drug trial

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Defendant Jaron Cornwell gazes at the gallery of Catawba County Superior Courtroom this week.

Prosecutor Leslie Dismukes referred to a man on trial for drug charges as “the kingpin of Hickory” during her opening statement Tuesday.

Jaron Monte Cornwell, 31, of Hickory, is on trial this week in Catawba County Superior Court on charges of conspiracy to traffic cocaine, continuing a criminal enterprise and possession of a firearm by a felon.

He was one of 22 people charged in 2018 as part of a six-month police investigation, according to a previous HDR article.

Cornwell was listed by authorities in 2018 as one of three leaders of the drug trafficking ring.

“The state is going to show you just how extensive the defendant’s drug trafficking enterprise was,” Dismukes continued in her opening statement.

Dismukes told the jury that throughout the trial they will hear calls from wiretaps, see videos from mounted cameras and police body cameras and hear from witnesses. “You’ll hear the defendant arranging drug deals with his co-conspirators,” she said.

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She continued, saying the evidence from the police investigation will show Cornwell was involved in drug dealing for an extended period of time. “This was not a one-time drug deal. This was an ongoing conspiracy in continuing criminal enterprise.”

Cornwell was represented in court by defense attorney J. Edgar Halstead.

Halstead said many of the phone calls the jury will hear were harmless. “They do not show that my client was controlling anything,” Halstead said.

The prosecution began questioning Hickory police investigators following opening statements.

Footage of Cornwell being searched was shown to the jury Tuesday. The footage was taken during a traffic stop Dec. 13, 2017, and is from Officer David Moore’s body camera. He is a criminal investigator with the Hickory Police Department.

Moore said in court that he was patrolling South Center Street in Hickory on Dec. 13, 2017, when he saw a black car blocking the road. He then initiated the traffic stop. “I immediately detected the odor of burnt marijuana coming from the vehicle. When I confronted Cornwell about the odor of marijuana, Cornwell advised that he and his passengers just smoked a blunt,” he said.

Moore said during the search of Cornwell and the vehicle they found $6,461.76 in cash, marijuana and cocaine.

The trial is expected to last until next week.


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