Accused drug store burglar convicted
It took a Fulton County jury nearly nine hours to reach a decision, but a Salem man faces 100 years in prison for a Sept. 8, 2010 burglary at the Salem Drug Company.
Rodney Steven Fletcher, 45, was arrested the same day that Pharmacist Darla York arrived to find someone had entered her store during the night by breaking the glass of the drive-through window.
York discovered $10,000 in cash and checks, and large quantities of narcotics, including Ratalin, Dilaudid, Morphine and Oxycodone, had been taken.
A security camera showed a man, wearing a camouflage mask and walking with a limp, taking items inside the store. As Salem Police Chief Al Roork and an Arkansas State Police investigator looked for clues at the crime scene, a man, later identified as Fletcher, entered the store.
After police determined Fletcher had been living at a home on North Main Street. they went to the address. The owner of the home allowed police inside, where they found a camouflage mask and clothes similar to those seen in the security video. They also noticed a check stamped for deposit by the Salem Drug Company.
After obtaining a search warrant and searching the house, a handgun and bags containing 22 different narcotic drugs were found. When Fletcher arrived home, he was found to be in possession of $6,350 in cash.
Fletcher was charged with Commercial Burglary, Theft of Property, Fraud and 18 counts of Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver.
Fletcher, represented by Public Defender John Russo, went on trial Wednesday, Sept. 12, and it continued through Thursday, Sept. 13.
During the trial, police officers and other witnesses connected Fletcher to the burglary.
But, during closing arguments, Russo claimed that several people lived in the home where Fletcher lived, and any one of them could have been the burglar. Russo said Salem Police Chief Al Roork had "blinders on" and concentrated on Fletcher as a suspect, because he knew him from past criminal cases and Fletcher was divorced from one of Roork's relatives.
Russo questioned the reliability of DNA evidence on the mask, which connected Fletcher to the break-in, saying investigators held the evidence for a year and a half before having it tested. He added hairs found in the mask were not tested.
Russo also pointed to a pair of boots allegedly owned by Fletcher, which matched boots the burglar wore in the security video. Russo claimed the boots were not the size that Fletcher wears. Invoking the O.J. Simpson trial, where gloves found at the murder crime scene did not fit Simpson, Russo shouted to jurors, "If the shoes don't fit, you must acquit," adding that the prosecution case raised lots of questions, reasonable doubt, that Fletcher was guilty.
Prosecutor Carla Powell told jurors that Russo was using "smoke and mirrors to distract from the heart of the matter," -- that evidence proved Fletcher was guilty.
As to questioned DNA evidence, Powell reminded jurors that the DNA expert who testified for the prosecution found a one in 67-million chance that the mask was worn by someone other than Fletcher.
After closing arguments at the end of the day on Sept. 13, Judge Tim Weaver agreed with the jury's desire to go home and start fresh with deliberations on Friday, Sept. 14.
As he left the courthouse, Fletcher confidently said to a photographer, "You're taking a picture of an innocent man."
As jury deliberations stretched on into Friday afternoon, it appeared some jurors did have doubts of his guilt.
When the jury finally returned a verdict in the late afternoon, Fletcher was found guilty of Commercial Burglary, Theft, Fraud and being a habitual offender. Fletcher was sentenced a total of 100-years in prison and fined $35,000.
Fletcher was found not guilty of multiple counts of Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver.