COLUMBIA — Three of the 16 people suspected of involvement in a Columbia gang pleaded not guilty Monday in the central division of the U.S. Court for the Western District of Missouri in Jefferson City.
Federal grand jury indictments were unsealed Thursday charging 16 alleged members of the “Cut Throat gang” with various crimes, including conspiring to traffic illegal drugs, involvement in drive-by shootings and possession of illegal firearms.
Donna C. Coats, 39, of Columbia pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, possession with intent to distribute at least 5 grams of cocaine base and use of a communication device to facilitate illegal drug distribution. As of Monday morning, Coats' trial was set for April 27.
Michael Lee Stapleton, 22, of Fayette pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and possession with intent to distribute at least 5 grams of cocaine base. Stapleton has previous narcotic convictions and state warrants.
Robert Darnell Simmons, 36, of Columbia pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and another conspiracy charge involving illegal drug distribution; competition with other individuals for drug-trafficking; possession of firearms with the intent to harm and intimidate; and firing a gun into a group of two or more people.
Stapleton’s and Simmons’ trials are currently set for July 20. Judge William Knox ordered that both men remain in custody until trial.
Simmons is suspected of being the driver in a May 31 drive-by shooting near a Petro Mart on Falling Leaf Lane in Columbia. According to the indictment, a handgun was fired and at least one person was injured. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony P. Gonzalez said a bystander was shot in the face during this incident.
Gonzalez said that some of the evidence that will be presented in trial against Stapleton and Simmons includes wire-tap and electronic surveillance recordings and testimony of at least one witness who saw the drive-by shooting.
Letters from Simmons’ family and friends expressing support for him were presented at the hearing. Simmons’ attorney, Kim Shaw, who has represented him in previous cases, attested to his reliable character and mentioned his work with his father’s company. Shaw said Simmons’ father is unable to work, which required Simmons to work in his father's place to support his family.