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District Attorney drops remaining Norman glass pipe cases

This adults only room was in The Friendly Market, 1100 E Constitution, Norman, in December 2015. [Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman Archives]

This adults only room was in The Friendly Market, 1100 E Constitution, Norman, in December 2015. [Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman Archives]

NORMAN — Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn dropped drug-related charges Monday against an owner and a former clerk of a Norman glass pipe shop after growing public scrutiny of the case.

Mashburn said he decided to seek dismissal of charges against Robert Cox, 63, owner of The Friendly Market, and former clerk James Maxwell Walters, 22, after talking to law enforcement and jurors from three previous trials concerning the now-closed business.

In a news release, Mashburn said his office would continue its prosecution of similar cases, but would work with law enforcement to gather better evidence moving forward.

“The reason we care about enforcing drug laws is because we see the chaos and destruction drug use causes,” Mashburn said. “One of my roles as a prosecutor is to identify trends and causes of violent crime and do my part to deter those crimes.”

Cox was in a celebratory mood Monday, and said he would spend the day visiting with friends and family to thank them for their support.

"I'm going to be smiling all day long," he said.

Cox said he would like eventually to reopen The Friendly Market in Norman and said Mashburn's decision to drop the remaining charges gives him hope that he can work together with local law enforcement.

"I think this is a big move for Mashburn," Cox said. "It was hard for him to do what he did, but he did the right thing. That gives me confidence that he is someone we can work with."

Cox's attorney, Blake Lynch, said he and his law partner, Brecken Wagner, received no communication from Mashburn's office about dropping the charges.

"It was completely unexpected, based on how the course of this case was going," Lynch said.

Over the weekend, two jurors from the trial of Cox and former store manager, Stephen Holman, had called for Mashburn to drop his prosecution of the remaining two defendants facing drug-related charges.

After a six-day trial in May, a Cleveland County jury acquitted Cox and Holman on a felony charge of acquiring proceeds from drug activity and 12 counts of possession of drug paraphernalia. Holman, 32, is an elected Norman city councilman.

In an open letter, juror Melissa Costello said she felt Mashburn's prosecution of The Friendly Market defendants was a waste of public time and money.

"I was not impressed with the state's case. I just didn't believe that Robert or Stephen had done anything wrong," Costello wrote. " The more I heard about The Friendly Market and all of the items it sold (other than glass pipes), the more I wish I'd known about it before it was closed down. I would have liked to have shopped there, and it didn't bother me one bit that they sold glass pipes."

In a separate letter, juror Betty Gilson echoed Costello's sentiments, stating that she believes the glass pipes The Friendly Market defendants were prosecuted for are not drug paraphernalia.

"I wondered, 'Why am I here?'" Gilson wrote of the trial. "I did not see the point in all of this. I did not see where anyone broke the law."

Likewise, Gilson said she and other jurors "felt intimidated by how many police officers filled the courtroom" when Police Chief Keith Humphreys testified during Cox and Holman's trial.

Mashburn declined to elaborate on his remarks in the news release, but said he also had dropped a civil asset forfeiture case to seize store inventory and cash from The Friendly Market.

In February, another jury acquitted Cody Franklin, 24, a former clerk at The Friendly Market, on a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Cox had still faced additional criminal charges stemming from a second police raid on the store in December 2015.

Walters, a former store clerk, also faced a second trial on a single misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. His first trial ended in a hung jury in October.

In the news release Monday, Mashburn said that marijuana had been linked to at least two unrelated homicides in Norman.

The prosecutor said that Jonathan Bogle was driving under the influence of marijuana in 2008 when he hit and killed Dovie Rose and severely injured her daughter, Autumn Rose.

In 2014, an individual high on marijuana killed Aaron McCray Jr., a father of two young children, Mashburn said. The suspect, 22-year-old Ethan Spruill, kicked open McCray's front door and fired multiple shots killing McCray. During the investigation, marijuana and drug paraphernalia were located in Spruill's apartment. Spruill was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

“These cases show why we need to be proactive about the issue of drug paraphernalia,” Mashburn said. “We have had many positive conversations with citizens, and understand how they feel about illegal drugs. By taking paraphernalia off the streets, I believe we can help deter illegal drug use. Less illegal drug use means a safer community.”

Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›

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