A federal appeals court has overturned one of the two drug convictions against margarine heiress Sandra Filbert Amos.
The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., struck down her conviction for conspiring to distribute cocaine but upheld her conviction on charges of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute.
In the same ruling, the court also overturned the guilty verdicts of her co-defendant Guillermo Moran on three drug conspiracy and possession charges.
Federal prosecutors said yesterday that they are prepared to retry the cases against both defendants.
"Clearly, we would have preferred the court to sustain us on all accounts," said U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett yesterday. "We have suffered a setback as to Moran, but it is not something that can't be overcome."
Mr. Bennett said the same federal prosecutors -- Lisa M. Griffin andJan Paul Miller -- will handle the government's case. He also said that the government would oppose releasing Mr. Moran now that all of his convictions have been overturned. "There is still a real danger of flight, and we oppose any bail," he said.
Amos and Mr. Moran were convicted on Nov. 9, 1989, by a federal jury in Baltimore of one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and two counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
Amos, 37, who is an heiress to the Mrs. Filbert's margarine fortune, received a 14-year prison sentence from U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Howard, who presided over the six-day trial. Mr. Moran, 34, a Colombian immigrant who lived in New York, received a sentence of 18 1/2 years from Judge Howard.
The Appeals Court ordered a new trial on the conspiracy charges for Amos and Mr. Moran.
The court said that Amos was improperly convicted on a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The opinion, written by U.S. Appeals Judge J. Dickson Phillips Jr., saidthe trial judge should have instructed the jury to consider a lesser charge of conspiracy to possess cocaine.
In a note to the judge during its deliberations, the jury indicated it wanted to convict her only of conspiracy to possess cocaine and not of conspiracy to distribute it. The appeals court said Judge Howard should have told the jury to consider the conspiracy to possess, a lesser charge.
The appeals court reversed Mr. Moran's conviction because it said that evidence of his involvement with drugs was improperly introduced to the jury.
A prosecution witness, Jeremiah Dennis Case, an admitted drug smuggler who had been Amos' boyfriend, testified that Mr. Moran had supplied him with small quantities of cocaine between 1986 and 1987. He also described an unsuccessful effort to supply cocaine to a Boston drug dealer. The appeals court said that this evidence predated the alleged conspiracy and could not be considered admissible, even as background information.