The Saga of The Friendly Market Continues…
I selected this picture for a reason. It is a surveillance photograph taken by Norman Police Detective Rick Newell during his investigation of The Friendly Market. The police and the district attorney say the kid in this photograph is a criminal, we found out he is a hero.
The misdemeanor jury trial of James (Max) Walters began Monday, October 24, 2016. The jury panel, comprised of 34 potential jurors squeezed into the small courtroom of Judge Steven Stice in the Cleveland County Courthouse. Max was charged with the crime of possession of paraphernalia and facing the possibility of spending one year in the county jail. Max could have taken an offer of probation and having his record whipped clean after, or risk jail and go to trial. He chose to go to trial.
Blake and I have tried many cases in many different counties, but this case was nerve racking in the sense that Max was facing the possibility of being convicted, jailed, and have a criminal record for the rest of his life. He could have just taken the lowest form of punishment walked away and have a clean record. Max was just a store clerk at The Friendly Market. It wasn’t until the store owner stood his ground and demanded that the county return his property and cash that they seized from his business, that Max was ever even charged with a crime.
The Cleveland County District Attorney’s office interprets Oklahoma’s paraphernalia statues differently than any of the other counties (76) in Oklahoma do. Gregg Mashburn’s Cleveland County District Attorney’s office claims Max was committing a crime by working at The Friendly Market, a store that sold glass smoking pipes and smoking accessories. Per the DA’s misinterpretation of the statute, Max was guilty of possessing paraphernalia because he sold a pipe to someone and was present on the day that police, county task force, and federal DEA officers served a search warrant on the business.
In total the trial lasted two and a half days, finally concluding on October 26 in the afternoon. For a misdemeanor trial that is a marathon. I’m not going to say much about the trial itself other than it was difficult at times. It is difficult when you know that you are right about something to the point that you believe it with every fiber of your being, but you still fear because you are at the mercy of persons you don’t know, and if they disagree with you it will be a very hard thing to take. But, this article is not about the trial, it’s about Max. As far as the trial, the jury deliberated for approximately six hours and were unable to reach a verdict.
We were honored to represent Max during this trial, and we continue to be honored to represent him still. He showed up every morning looking sharp and bright in his three-piece suit. He spent most of the trial sitting to my right. He handled himself with a grace and poise that Blake and I both felt envious of. We would react with offense at how the prosecutor spoke. We recoiled when he insinuated that our client was a criminal, a negative element. My stomach churned with disgust. I boiled. However, this 21-year-old kid to my right shamed me with his stoic and dignified lack of response.
Max never spoke at his trial. The jury, and for that matter, the prosecutors never got to see what a great and humble soul he is. There were many times that we got to see just how good of a person Max is.
On the last day of trial, Blake was scheduled to deliver the closing argument for our side. He was nervous, we were all nervous. Blake was going over his notes to reassure himself and distract his nerves when Max leaned to him and apologized. He was sorry that it was because of him Blake was nervous. After the trial Blake told me about that exchange. That is something that the both of us will take away from this trial and keep for the rest of our lives. This kid, in that moment, forgot his own troubles and offered comfort to one of us.
On another occasion, we were both talking with Max, and in a moment of complete honesty told him that if we had been offered the deal he was, a 21-year-old kid, we would probably have taken it to avoid the chance of going to jail. He told us that he was willing to accept the jury’s decision, that he knew he had done nothing wrong, and if he went to jail he was ready to deal with it. I know that in that moment I never wanted to fight for someone so bad in my life.
Max’s ordeal is not over. Because the jury was unable to reach a decision Max can, and we think will be tried again. Per Detective Newell, District Attorney Greg Mashburn and the spokesperson for the Norman Police Department, the investigation and raids of pipe shops in the City of Norman came because of “citizen complaints”. The law in Norman and the rest of Oklahoma has not changed prior to and after these shops were raided, the only change was these so-called “citizen complaints”. Rarely have I seen an average citizen complaint result in a large-scale investigation like that of The Friendly Market. This investigation included surveillance, undercover work, and the Norman Police Department, Cleveland County Drug Task Force, DEA, and Homeland Security officials joining together. As Detective Newell testified, he has bosses that have bosses that eventually answer to “citizens”, voters/donors.
If you keep searching you will find the truth. At the heart of this case is the truth, this is about politics and politicians, not 21-year-old Max. I believe a certain “citizen” or “citizens” complained to certain persons with power (fill in your politician here) and wanted shops like The Friendly Market, out of Norman. That call to action worked its way down the chain to a Detective. What resulted was an unlawful expulsion of legitimate legal enterprises. And to exert their power, a kid named Max was threatened with jail. They picked the wrong kid. They picked our hero.
NOTE: In Today’s edition of The Daily Oklahoman, District Attorney Mashburn said that his office does plan to retry Max Walters. Maybe you would like to make a “citizen complaint”. If you would like to express your opinion at how the powerful have chosen to treat Max and his friends at The Friendly Market, here are some places that you can send your complaints.
Greg Mashburn DA
Cleveland County District Attorney Office
201 S. Jones Suite 300
Norman, Oklahoma 73071.
405-321-8268, email: D21DA@dac.state.ok.us
Norman Police Department
Comments or Concerns (405) 321-1444
Email: NomrnamPD@NormanOK.gov

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