A man authorities say is one of the leaders of a drug trafficking ring in Catawba County is on trial.
Jaron Monte Cornwell, 31, of Hickory, could be sentenced to up to 33 years in prison if he is found guilty on drug charges. His trial began Monday in Catawba County Superior Court.
Cornwell was one of 22 people charged in 2018 as part of a drug roundup. He was charged with conspiracy to traffic cocaine and continuing a criminal enterprise, according to a previous HDR article. Cornwell was listed by authorities in 2018 as one of three leaders of the drug trafficking ring.
Cornwell was also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, Judge Martin McGee said in court on Monday.
He is in custody at the Catawba County Detention Facility under a $1 million bond.
Before the trial began Monday morning, prosecutor Leslie Dismukes with the N.C. Department of Justice told Judge McGee that phone calls between Cornwell and Adrian Johnson made in the last week concerned her.
“During those calls there have been conversations where Mr. Johnson has been saying that ‘Someone is going to have to answer for this,’” she said.
“Additionally they have been trying to secure the testimony of witnesses to come in and ‘win an Oscar’ is how they were phrasing it. Basically to come in and give false testimony,” she continued.
Dismukes called for the court to discourage such phone calls. She clarified that Cornwell’s attorney J. Edgar Halstead was not involved in any of those conversations.
“I have not heard these calls,” Halstead said. “I know madam prosecutor had told me that it did not appear to be my client that was making these threats. It was a person on the other end.”
Judge McGee reminded Cornwell before the trial began that he still had a plea offer of a minimum of 175 months, just over 14 years, that he could accept up to the point the jury arrived.
Cornwell turned down the plea offer and jury selection began.
Judge McGee said the trial will last through the week and possibly through the week after.