Monday, August 14, 2017

A FIRST IN MONTCO: Unique Defense Strategy Waged at Drug Smuggling Trial

Last week, a Norristown businessman offered a defense strategy never before waged in Montgomery County to charges he smuggled heroin for a drug trafficking organization, claiming he did so under duress by a Mexican drug cartel that threatened his relatives.

“They told me I had to work with them. They were going to kill my brothers in Mexico,” David Pacheco testified in county court, referring to men who visited his Norristown towing business in early 2015 and who he believed were representatives of the violent Mexican drug cartel known as New Generation Cartel Jalisco.
David Pacheco/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Courthouse insiders and seasoned defense lawyers told me they believed it was the first time such a defense was waged in a county courtroom. They were watching the trial closely.

Well-known defense lawyer John I. McMahon Jr. argued to jurors during his opening statement that prosecutors had to prove that Pacheco, 45, was not acting under duress by the Mexican drug cartel and its associates at the time he smuggled the drugs.

McMahon claimed duress is an “absolute defense” to criminal charges and arises under circumstances when, although an individual committed the acts that would constitute a crime, that he only did so based on the threat of violence to him or others. McMahon argued Pacheco was under extreme duress and was not guilty of the drug-related offenses with which he was charged.

While District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and co-prosecutor Robert Kolansky argued Pacheco willingly smuggled heroin inside retrofitted car batteries from Atlanta to New York City, via Montgomery County, out of greed to make money with the “poison he was peddling,” McMahon argued Pacheco was a “mule” threatened and intimidated by the cartel to cooperate.
Montgomery County DA Kevin R. Steele/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

McMahon, a prosecutor turned defense lawyer who has a reputation for being a zealous advocate for his clients, relied on a scholarly expert on Mexican cartels to argue the cartels use extortion, the threat of kidnapping family and relatives and even murder to get otherwise law-abiding Mexican immigrants to assist them.

John I. McMahon Jr./Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Pacheco came to the U.S. 18 years ago, has no criminal record and operated a successful towing business, D&J Towing in Norristown, testimony revealed.

McMahon argued Pacheco initially rebuffed the requests of cartel associates who visited him but caved in when cartel members revealed they had photos of his relatives and knew where they lived.

In the end, the jury apparently did not buy the duress claim as an excuse for the conduct, convicting Pacheco of nine counts of possession with intent to deliver heroin.

But the trial offered spectators an education about Mexican drug cartels and a view of a defense strategy never before seen at a county trial.


When it came time for the defense expert on Mexican cartels to testify via the Internet from California, his image displayed on a large television monitor for jurors, there was a glitch when officials couldn’t get the sound to work properly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the part you don’t see on TV,” Judge Garrett D. Page addressed jurors, eliciting laughter from the panel, referring to the legal dramas so popular on television. “Technology isn’t perfect. Thank you for your patience.”

Judge Garrett D. Page/ Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

After several minutes, officials worked out the technological problems and the trial resumed.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Montco Prosecutor Kristen Feden Moving On

Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden, who is part of the team that is prosecuting entertainer Bill Cosby on sex assault charges, is leaving the district attorney’s office effective August 15 for a new job.
Montco Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Feden, who since February has been the captain of the district attorney’s domestic violence unit, is joining the Philadelphia-based law firm of Stradley Ronon as an associate and will primarily handle civil litigation.

However, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said despite Feden’s departure she will be designated as a special prosecutor when Cosby faces his retrial in county court. That retrial is currently slated to begin Nov. 6.

Montco D.A. Kevin R. Steele/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
“Kristen has been an outstanding prosecutor. She is always prepared, terrific in her approach and has excellent courtroom presence. We are sad to lose one of the best young attorneys we have. We will miss her personally and professionally…,” Steele said in a news release, adding he is pleased Stradley Ronon will permit Feden to continue with the Cosby prosecution.

William R. Sasso, chairman of Stradley Ronon’s management committee and board of directors, also praised Feden saying she is “an exceptional courtroom attorney and will be an asset to our strong litigation team.”

Michael D. O’Mara, chair of Stradley Ronon’s litigation department, characterized Feden as “a superstar in any setting,” whether as a criminal prosecutor or in private practice.

Around the courthouse, Feden is known for being tough in court and yet many consider her to be one of the most likable prosecutors to grace the halls of the courthouse. She greets everyone with a smile and always seems to have a kind word. Her laugh is infectious.

In May 2016, Feden, who has been a prosecutor since 2012, was honored in the Philadelphia Business Journal’s special edition entitled, “40 Under 40 Living The Dream,” which profiled Philadelphia area movers and shakers under 40 who are dedicated to their careers and communities.

At the time, Feden ecstatically told me it was one of the highest honors she received. The popular business publication featured Feden, of Abington, on its cover and a profile of Feden was included in the inside pages.
Kristen Feden Displays Honor in 2016/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“I was extremely excited. It was such a great honor because being recognized as a public servant by a business journal shows that even the business world recognizes, respects and honors public servants, including prosecutors, whose sole job is to keep the community safe,” Feden, who was a law clerk for Judge Garrett D. Page before being hired as a prosecutor, told me last year.

Feden, a 2009 graduate of Temple University Beasley School of Law, has prosecuted many sex crime cases.

Last year she was assigned to assist Steele in the prosecution of Cosby, who is accused of sexually assaulting a woman at his Cheltenham home in 2004. It’s the highest profile case to ever hit the local courthouse.

Feden drew nationwide attention when she presented the opening statement to jurors during the Cosby trial and when she handled the direct examination of Cosby's accuser, the star prosecution witness.

In June, a judge declared a mistrial when a jury could not reach a verdict at Cosby’s trial. The case is now scheduled for a retrial before Judge Steven T. O’Neill.

You can bet that all eyes will continue to be on Feden as the Cosby case winds its way through the court system again.

Feden, who is married to Nicholas Feden and is the mother of two young boys, Nicholas Jr. and Ethan, also once worked as a financial analyst for Bloomberg, L.P. in New York.

So if you see Feden in the courthouse hallways congratulate her on her new job as she advances her career.

Mr. Everybody’s Business also says, congratulations, Kristen!