Man with famous name wins drug case appeal

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The state Court of Appeals has agreed that a drug conviction against a Fairbanks man with a famous name should be overturned in part because the name was not sufficient reason for a package to searched.

Sam McGee, 72, had pleaded no contest to four counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance with the condition that he be allowed to appeal the convictions.

The Appeals Court confirmed a Superior Court decision to overturn the conviction.

McGee has a name made famous by Gold Rush poet Robert W. Service in The Cremation of Sam McGee.'' The title character seeks gold in the Yukon but constantly whines about the stabbing cold. With his dying request, he asks the poem's narrator to cremate him.

When the narrator find a ship wreck on Lake LaBerge, he sets it on fire and throws in the corpse, only to see McGee revive, smile and declare it's the first time he's been warm since he left Tennessee.

The Appeals Court opinion released Friday indicated judges had to consider whether a drug agent looking at FedEx packages in 1999 had reasonable suspicion to inspect a package addressed to McGee that contained cocaine.

One reason agent Larry Tower gave for inspecting the package was McGee's name.

Tower concluded that the addressee was fictitious because he recalled 'a legend of Sam McGee or something' and the name struck him as 'comical,''' judges wrote.

Drug agents attached a sensor to the package and allowed it to continue to McGee's rural home east of Fairbanks. The sensor alerted agents when the package was opened. McGee was arrested at his home, where agents found cocaine, methadone and methamphetamine.

Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Charles Pengilly denied McGee's motion to have evidence against him dismissed, and he entered his plea.

The Appeals Court first concluded that Pengilly never gave appropriate consideration to McGee's claim that officers improperly inspected the package and ordered that the judge conduct more proceedings.

Pengilly held another hearing and Tower, an officer assigned to the Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit, was grilled on his reasons for inspecting the package.

Besides the name of the recipient, Tower testified that the package seemed odd for other reasons. He testified he felt a container inside the envelope and that the package came from Tacoma, Wash., a community he called one of the source cities ... that Alaska receives a lot of drugs from.''

Following Tower's testimony, Pengilly rejected the officer's notion that Tacoma was a drug source city for Alaska and ruled that there were not enough unusual characteristics about the package to warrant a search. The appeals court agreed with Pengilly's ruling.

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