Given the choice between willingly descending into a deep, yet fathomable legal hole and risking a plunge into a federal-court abyss, convicted Cocke County crack-cocaine dealer and admitted heroin and crystal-meth trafficker Gregory “Frog” Thomas continues to insist on courting disaster, according to court documents.
But this time, Thomas, 41, could have some help.
His second attorney, Morristown lawyer Wayne Stambaugh, on Tuesday asked permission to amend Thomas’ self-filed motion to withdraw his guilty plea and walk away from a 188-month deal that settled both the heroin- and meth-trafficking cases and a 60-month revocation sentence related to his 2011 federal crack-cocaine conviction.
Stambaugh’s task will be to attach actual law to Thomas’ emotional appeal to withdraw his guilty plea and put his fate in the hands of a jury.
His first attorney, Hawkins County lawyer Jefferson B. Fairchild, told Thomas that if he went to trial and were convicted, he could face life in prison, according to a letter Thomas wrote to U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer.
“I was never informed I had a right of due process until you, Judge Greer, made it clear in court,” the letter states. “I also understand that you did not except (sic) the sentencing part of the plea agreement. I don’t know if that’s grounds to retract my guilty plea …”
Thomas is a member of a large class of crack-cocaine dealers affected when Congress enacted a law that reduced the sentencing disparity between traffickers who sell powder cocaine and crack cocaine. The 20-year sentence he received in 2011 was cut in half.
When he was released from a halfway house in October 2017, he began buying large quantities of heroin and crystal meth, which he sold in Cocke County, according to his plea agreement, which states he got caught up in a Knoxville-based drug-trafficking investigation when he sold to an informant.
Once federal prosecutors told Thomas what they had on him, he agreed to plead guilty “by information,” without having been indicted by a grand jury.
His prior convictions in state court include sexual battery, possession and sale of cocaine, domestic assault, felony breaking and entering and possession of stolen property. Combined, his convictions place Thomas in the highest federal criminal-history category, which is a key factor judges consider when imposing sentences.