Local jury finds man innocent of drug charges

Published 12:47 am Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Covington County jury deliberated for 20 minutes before returning an innocent verdict for a DeFuniak Springs man charged with possession of a controlled substance in 2016.

Defense attorney Riley Powell said Justin Ray McHenry,  who was 32 at the time of his arrest, maintained his innocence from the beginning of the case.

Powell said McHenry and his wife were living in the Florala area, but McHenry had moved out prior to his arrest. The two were at Red Oak Church when they had an argument, and his wife got out of the car. McHenry told her he was going to their former home to get his things.

“She called her aunt to pick her up, and called 911,” Powell said. “Deputies responded and called the DTF, and in a minute they were searching the house. “

Powell said officers found a container in the drawer of a bedside table that had some methamphetamine in it.

“It was not his house, not his bedroom, and not his drugs,” Powell said. “He repeatedly denied it was his.”

However, when his estranged wife and her 5-year-old from a previous marriage arrived, officers told McHenry and his wife if one of them didn’t claim the substance, they were both going to jail.

Powell said at that point, his client said, “I guess I’ll own it” so that his wife wouldn’t have to go to jail. Officers testified that McHenry claimed the substance, even though he also had denied ownership numerous time.

“There was no video, photos, or fingerprints,” Powell said. “The state’s case was, ‘This is so simple, he admitted it’s his.’

“Our case was, ‘Maybe it was, but maybe is not enough evidence,’ “ he said. “There was no evidence to show that he lived there.”

Powell expressed his appreciation to the jury, and said, “I’m very proud of Justin for having the guts and faith to stand firm in his consistent claim that he was innocent. In fact, it would have been easier for Justin to give in to the pressure of the prosecution against him and plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit.”

Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter prosecuted the case, over which Circuit Judge Lex Short presided.