Local Family Claims Conspiracy Responsible for Conviction

The family of a Berryville woman now serving a life sentence for conspiracy to sell crack cocaine says unethical conduct by her attorney, Paul Thomson, caused a series of events that that led to her sentence of life in prison plus 30 years. Thomson, a well-known local defense attorney and former Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney, pleaded “not guilty” to charges of drug possession and witness tampering in US District Court in Harrisonburg in January.

Supporters of Charceil Kellam at a recent Winchester Press Conference (l-r) Kellam's mother, Vonceil Hill, family friend Franklin Washington, Kellam's son Percy Davis and family friend John Flynn - Photo Edward Leonard

“My mother wasn’t a saint and she had a drug problem” said Perry Davis, the woman’s son 28-year- old son. “But she’s a minor criminal who got life in prison plus 30 years for something that she wasn’t involved in. It just doesn’t make sense.” Kellam also has a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter.

Davis’s mother, Charceil Kellam, 46, formerly of Berryville is currently serving a sentence in a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Kellam’s mother, Vonceil Hill, said that Thomson’s recent arrest is part of a broader pattern of unethical behavior that contributed to Kellam’s severe sentence.

“This community has recently seen serious questions raised about attorney Paul Thomson” Hill said reading from a prepared statement. “However, one resident of this community, Charceil Kellam, has been aware of Attorney Thomson’s ethical problems for the last five years. In fact, Thomson was part of the web of injustice that has led to Ms. Kellam receiving an unjust federal sentence of life plus thirty years, instead of receiving treatment for her drug addiction or another response appropriate to the relatively minor and nonviolent drug offenses she was shown to have committed.”

Kellam’s troubles, which led to her eventual incarceration, began on the night of April 4, 2006 when she was stopped by Virginia State Trooper T. Seagle while driving on Route 11 in Frederick County. Video of the traffic stop recorded from Seagle’s vehicle and provided to the Clarke Daily News by Kellam’s family, shows an extended and violent struggle between Kellam and Seagle on what appears to be an isolated stretch of highway.

[Editor’s Warning: The attached video contains disturbing violence and profanity.]

Video Clip 1:

Video Clip 2:

After stopping the vehicle, Seagle asks Kellam to step out of her car and Kellam complies with the order.

As Officer Seagle speaks with Kellam he states that he smells marijuana. Kellam tells Seagle that she doesn’t have any marijuana. As the discussion begins to escalate, Kellam attempts to return to her vehicle. Seagle makes an effort to stop Kellam and a struggle ensues. During the struggle Kellam escapes from Seagle’s grip and manages to regain possession of her vehicle. The video shows Kellam driving away from the scene of the traffic stop after ignoring Seagle’s repeated orders to stop.

Seagle’s squad car video recorder captures the subsequent pursuit and Kellam’s decision to eventually pull into a lighted parking lot. After Kellam stops her vehicle, Seagle again attempts to physically remove Kellam from her car while simultaneously radioing for emergency assistance from a Virginia State Police dispatcher. After several minutes of struggle Kellam is finally extricated from her vehicle and handcuffed. Seagle is then observed searching Kellam’s car and purse.

At time code 23:25:30 in the second video segment Trooper Seagle confronts Kellam with an object that he says is marijuana and states that she is being charged with possession of marijuana.

Kellam objects to Seagle’s statement saying that she does not have any marijuana and that Seagle must have placed the marijuana in Kellam’s purse.

Kellam is then placed under arrest.

Vonceil Hill says that after the arrest Kellam paid Thomson a $5,000 retainer to represent her on the marijuana charge. However, Hill says that Thomson failed to file legal documents that Kellam believed allowed her to avoid an appearance at a court hearing related to the marijuana charge. Kellam’s absence from the hearing led the judge in the case to the issue a bench warrant for Kellam’s arrest.

At a recent press conference conducted by Kellam’s family, both Hill and Davis said that not only did Thomson not file court documents required in Kellam’s case on the local marijuana charges, which were eventually dropped, but that Thomson was also representing Kellam’s cousin, Sara Johnson at the same time.

Sara Johnson went on to become a prosecution witness at Kellam’s 2006 federal drug trial.

According to Davis, Johnson later testified against his mother because Johnson had a vendetta over a previous drug arrest. “Sara Johnson said that she did it because my mother had set her up on a previous arrest” Davis said.

If the statements by Kellam’s family are true, which Vonceil Hill says will be corroborated by other people who she believes are willing to testify, important conflict of interest and ethical issues about the judicial process that landed Kellam in jail for life may need to be re-examined.

Kellam later filed a complaint against Seagle over the incident for use of excessive force.

“Charceil exercised her Constitutional right to complain about her treatment during her Frederick County arrest by Seagle” Hill says. “Feeling uncomfortable with the trooper’s behavior, Charceil drove at a low speed to a nearby well-lighted convenience store, a response advised in this situation by various authorities” Hill said. “Once at the store, she parked, but refused to leave her vehicle until another officer arrived. Trooper Seagle shouted at her to get out of the car, and attempted to pull her out bodily. Charceil suffered injuries from this incident, which she documented at a physician’s office soon afterward.”

But Kellam’s problems were only just beginning. According to Perry Davis, the law enforcement response to the bench warrant for his mother’s arrest was unbelievable.

“In May 2006, 28 law enforcement officers waited on Josephine Street for three hours for my mother to return home” Davis said.

Vonceil Hill corroborated Davis’s statement saying  “She was beaten up that day again by Officer Seagle and some other officers. This was seen by many in the community. Officer Seagle also pulled a gun on my mother’s neighbor and her husband. She had to show ID that she was not Charceil.”

The subsequent Berryville arrest led Kellam to also file complaint charges with the Virginia Bar Association over Thomson’s handling of her case.

Perry Davis says that his mother’s complaints against Thomson and Seagle touched off a series of retaliatory steps by authorities that ultimately resulted in an indictment of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and the subsequent extraordinarily severe penalty Kellam received given her non-violent record of minor drug offenses.

Both Davis and Hill say that they believe Kellam’s complaints prompted federal authorities to file the false charges against her.

In September 2006, Kellam, along with 27 alleged co-conspirators, were indicted for cocaine distribution. The charges stemmed from a year-long drug and gang investigation on Winchester’s North End. The drug operation was nicknamed “Blockbuster” because it focused on operations in an area near Winchester’s Cartwright Recreation Center on North Kent Street known as “The Block”.

But Kellam’s family insists that after her release on bond from the May, 2006 Berryville arrest, Charceil had turned her life around. They also say that Kellam never had had contact with people on The Block to begin with.

“After getting out on bond, Charceil completed a six week drug program in Martinsburg, West Virginia and then enrolled in a woman’s drug program in Winchester” Vonceil Hill said. “She was getting back on track when they accused her of being part of a conspiracy ring in Winchester with 27 other people.”

Hill says that prosecutors wrongly assumed that her daughter was living with a man named as a co-conspirator in the Blockbuster drug distribution investigation but later admitted in court that Kellam had not met the man prior to her arrest in the conspiracy case. According to Hill, authorities accused Kellam of conspiring with a man called “Cowboy” to deal drugs, but later discovered that another person used the same nickname.

While Davis and Hill make no attempt to cast Kellam’s past as anything other than checkered, Davis adamantly denies that Kellam was ever a drug dealer. “She never did anything other than support her own habit” Perry Davis said.  “Charceil did not know any of the people arrested in Blockbuster and lived in West Virginia at the time of the initial arrests. They said she lived with this guy named Alderson Michel. But the prosecutor’s witness admitted that after 16 month she realized that she had identified the wrong person. Even though they later dropped him from the conspiracy case they still left Charceil in the conspiracy.”

“I believe it was retaliatory,” said Larry Yates, a family friend. “The Virginia State Police video shows that the trooper’s behavior was inappropriate. These kinds of issues affect everyone. When a minor criminal receives life plus 30 years it also means that it could happen to anyone.”

Ultimately, Thomson did not represent Kellam on the federal charges which eventually led to her life sentence.

“It is our belief that various vindictive people with power in the criminal justice system, including attorney Thomson, played a role in punishing Charceil” the family said in its press release.

Davis’s contention that Kellam was never more than an addict trying to support a cocaine habit lies at the heart of the sentencing question being raised by Kellam’s supporters. Davis and Hill say that Kellam’s crimes, while serious, do not rise to a level that demands life imprisonment plus thirty years as punishment. They believe that the reason for the severe sentence was, in part, retribution by the legal system against an African American woman who attempted to stand up to a Virginia State Trooper and a well-known defense attorney.

“Race played a big deal in it” said Percy Davis.

The public record leaves little doubt that Kellam’s life was being impacted due to problems with drugs. Prior to her April 2006 arrest by State Trooper Seagle, court documents indicate that in 2005 Sara Johnson allegedly purchased crack cocaine from a dealer in Kellam’s home acting on behalf of police. Police believe that Kellam played a role in the transaction based on a recording device that Johnson was wearing.

Then later, when Kellam was arrested in Berryville in May 2006, police allege that she had cocaine in her possession.

However, Kellam’s family questions why Trooper Seagle’s was present at the Berryville arrest scene after Kellam had filed a complaint against him and also believes that the trooper planted the marijuana in Kellam’s purse during the earlier Route 11 traffic stop.

According to Hill, Kellam did not use marijuana. Hill said that in a hearing after Kellam’s April 2006 arrest, Trooper Seagle stated that he had been able to smell what turned out to be a small cache of marijuana even though he had a sinus infection on the night of Kellam’s arrest and despite the marijuana being sealed in a small plastic bag. Based on this information, Hill believes Kellam’s assertion that she did not have any marijuana in her possession on the night on April 4, 2006 and that she also did not possess cocaine when she was arrested in May 2006 on Josephine Street.

“Why was Seagle even part of the arrest team when she had already filed a complaint against him?” Davis asked.

“It is our belief that various vindictive people with power in the criminal justice system, including Attorney Thomson, played a role in punishing Charceil, not for her relatively minor and completely nonviolent crimes, but for being an African-American woman determined to speak up for her rights – and for all our rights” said Vonceil Hill.

In the end, a U.S. District Court jury in Harrisonburg, Virginia found Kellam guilty of three counts of distribution of crack cocaine and one count of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. The conviction came after Kellam turned down a plea deal for a 20-year sentence because, according to Hill, “she thought she was innocent, and that she would get justice.” When Kellam was later sentenced, U.S. Judge Glen Conrad said that he had no authority to deviate from the sentencing recommendation of the US Attorney’s office and sentenced Kellam to life in prison plus 30 years for the crimes but not before referring to Kellam’s sentence as “cruel” and “over the top,” while chiding the prosecution for its mistakes in connecting her to the conspiracy.

Last month Kellam took her case to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals arguing that her sentence term was “cruel and unusual” and violated the US Constitution. However, Kellam’s plea to have the sentence set aside failed to convince appellate judges and the sentence was allowed to stand.

With the failure of Kellam’s Fourth Circuit appeal her final judicial recourse now lies in an appeal to the US Supreme Court unless the allegations of wrong doing in her case can be substantiated. Perry Davis says that he hopes the recent charges against Thomson will raise awareness of Kellam’s plight and possibly initiate a Justice Department investigation into the case.

Vonceil Hill said today that she and Davis are continuing to actively pursue a federal investigation into the matter.

Comments

  1. …..and of course the race card is pulled out.

    Pathetic! She tries to run from the police and she expects the officer to treat her kindly? I can’t stand that these sort of cases are clogging up our judicial system!

    • Time4change says:

      Clearly Frank you aren’t a woman and you’ve never been assaulted either. Lucky you. Smart lady to drive to a public, lighted place.

      • Naked Truth says:

        Or just get out when the officer asked her to. When you drive away it escalates the situation. Remember , when you are pulled over the police are in charge. Not the other way around. Certain people have a hard time remembering that. This woman had no defense. the video makes it all clear. I can’t believe that you can say he is out of control. He handled this better than I would have. It is a shame that this woman has no respect for the police officer. Nice role model for her kids. I bet they are all in her cheering section.

      • Please. This has nothing to do with allegedly being assaulted by Trooper Seagle…it has nothing to do with her being black…or nothing to do with her pulling into a lit place. This has EVERYTHING to do with a drug dealer who broke the law OVER AND OVER AND OVER again trying to take advantage of her ex-attorneys current legal situation. MAYBE is she had of been a law abiding citizen, she wouldn’t have been sentensed to the time she was. Time for this woman to take some responsibility.

  2. Time4change says:

    All I can say after watching that video is I hope I never get pulled over by that guy. He was never in control of himself so how could he be in control of the situation? We’re taught to respect police officers and then they act like that. Maybe he should learn to count to 10.

    • Naked Truth says:

      When did she respect him or his authority? She is lucky it happened afew years ago. With the stun-guns they use now, she would have been flooping like a piece of bacon.

    • My guess is that if you are ever pulled over by this Trooper, you will comply with what he asks and have no problem with him. It’s easy for us to second guess the decisions he made. We weren’t there and we only can see part of the situation. That Trooper has a right to make sure he is safe…if he felt he needed to restrain her in that way, well then it was probably for good reason. For all he knew, she was returning to her vehicle to get a gun.

    • Dmaxnjackson says:

      I know, it is hard to understand “get out of your car” I would have counted to 10, and lit her up with the mace…………..noe she will get out.

  3. Naked Truth says:

    Seriously? if she would have stopped and listened she would of just gotten a pot charge. What a dummy. She deserves all she got! This family needs to stop wasting my tax dollars on this. She is guilty. She is also lucky the trooper showed more restriant than I would have. I can’t beleive this. Just because Thomson was charged with another crime? Give me a break. All she had to do was comply! Stop thinking that you are above the law. People like her, I have no compassion for. You are guilty of all charges.

  4. If you are going to do drugs, you are eventually going to get into trouble. Same as if you run from the police or resist arrest, the officer has to assume you are a potentially lethal threat. I would even bet she was familiar with “The Block” and did use crack she just hid it from her family members and/or lied about it. The police have enough stress day in and day out putting up with all this nonsense. Keep clean and stay out of trouble to begin with and chances are you will be left alone.

    • Dmaxnjackson says:

      Can’t do the time………don’t do the crime. That’s what my parent’s always told me.

  5. Benefit of the Doubt says:

    Life plus 30 sounds a bit steep based on the information in this article alone. You don’t get those kind of sentences without repeat trips before the courts, which means there should have been prior opportunities to correct the lifestyle that lead to this event. So I would err on the side of repeat offender before I pulled the race/conspiracy card. As far as police officers go, most are great but some are not, however a traffic stop is not a place to test it.

    • I completely agree. Someone who has been a “minor criminal” (to quote her son) doesn’t draw the attention of Feds. Someone who is a “minor criminal” doesn’t get sentenced to life plus 30 for no reason. Historically it seems as though drug dealers don’t get long enough sentences (in my opinion), so when you see someone get this kind of sentence, well that says alot to me.

      Trooper Seagle and Paul Thomson should feel special to know that some people think they have enough “pull” to get someone sentenced to such.

      And I am by NO means defending Thomson and his current legal issues, but just because the man has some serious personal issues doesn’t mean every case he ever prosecuted or defended was done so immorally or unethically.

      Quite frankly, the family is being hypocritical. They are saying Kellam had a drug problem but was a good person and a minor criminal…but yet Thomson has a drug problem and therefore he is a horrible and corrupt and illegal in every other sense of his life? He may be, but whats good for the goose should be good for the gander. Funny how these allegations only come about now.

  6. This is why I couldn’t be a cop, because I’d have probably tasered her. It’s more than obvious why she ran, because she had pot in the car! Then, she was too stupid to throw it out the window after she drove away.

    Now, all that said, I think every case Thompson handled, and espeically the ones that ended up in jail time, probably needs to be reviewed.

    To the family of this crackhead, I’ll join everyone else and say stop clogging the system and wasting my money

  7. William James says:

    So she says that she didn’t have marijauna over and over and over. And during her trial, her attorney admitted she had it in a sealed bag. Am I to beleive her or her attorney? She is on video tape, caught in a lie.
    Just because you are of any race does not give you the right or reason to not respect the police officer’s instructions. Stop the nonsense! She didn’t get the beatdown like she should have recieved.
    This family sat back, watched and knew she did drugs. The did NOTHING until she was arrested. Why? They let her do this while she had young children at the home. Am I to also beleive them when they say she only sold drugs to support her own habit? Really? So she had a full time job, used her pay check for household, food, clothing for her children. But then sold drugs to support her “silly” drug habit? What job did she have? This woman infected or community and endangered her children’s welfare. She got caught and now needs to pay for that. Stop acting like she is an angel. It’s a total shame that even now she is sucking our tax dollars. And the family wants more of our tax dollars for the frivolous nonsense.
    Her actions in these videos infuriates me. The officer should be commended for keeping his control while she acted like an animal.

  8. I agree with everyone else keep her behind bars she’s already wasting enough of our tax money by being in jail. This woman clearly belongs behind bars she has no respect for the law or anyone else why are we wasting our time and energy even talking about her??

    • We’re talking about her because she and her family have sunk to playing the race card when all other defenses have failed.

      I’m sure there’s a litigious local fellow in Berryville who would love to take up her case, I hear he’s got a lot of experience.

  9. Lemme get this straight…her family released these videos????

    Talk about torpedoing your case! These videos are better than most of the videos they have on “COPS”!!

    I agree with Sarge…I couldn’t be a cop either, that trooper showed AMAZING RESTRAINT with her.

  10. Treadwell says:

    I suppose he learned those policing techniques in authoritative gut scream class back at the academy. C’mon people…..regardless of this woman’s actions….which are at worst silly……throw the [redacted] keys on the ground, keep your eyes on the “perp,” and wait for back-up. This guy clearly has the mental capacity [redacted] and all I here is praise for his “restraint” on this thread. And all this because the guvmint thinks it has the right to tell us what we can and cant ingest? (lesson folks; the drug war is and always has been since the repeal of prohibition a cause championed by bureaucrats and fed agents in fear of losing their bread and butter. THEY are the ones leaching YOUR tax dollars. “OUR” CIA brought crack to this country in order to fund proxy wars in Central America, much like they are doing right this moment in Afghanistan. Wiki/Google RIck Ross. Wiki/Google our local war criminal Ollie North. Wiki/Google Gary Webb. We let them grow it, then we arrest Americans. People are [redacted] about misuse of their taxes, but some poor drug addict from Josephine Street is not your enemy) “Support your troopers, arbeit macht frei!” Sheesh.

  11. Whatever the final charges were that put her in prison, I am not clear on, but it is obvious from the above videos that she was hostile and uncooperative. If she was scared of the officer because the road was secluded and dark, why did she get out of the car the first time? She was okay until the trooper wanted to search her car. Plain and clear in black and white.

    Perhaps the sentence is a bit steep, but we don’t know the whole story on this particular page. But I am sure that the FEDS don’t get involved with some little ole crack addict from Berryville, unless there is more to the story.

    I agree with some other comments, that Paul Thompson’s issues are just another excuse to try and find a way out. Everyone sat back and watched her do drugs and jeopardize her kids – but no one spoke up until she went to prison.

    Race is not an issue. Idiots, drug dealers, theives, drug addicts come in all colors.

  12. wow indeed says:

    Murderers and rapists don’t get life plus 30 years most of the time. I hate the “race card” as much as the next guy but you all should check the crime and punishment stats before being so quick to judge it as bogus in all cases.

    I agree with the judge that this is a cruel and unreasonable sentence for someone who, based on this article, was a user, not a dealer. Hooking her cousin up with a dealer does not make her one unless she is profiting from it.

    It is not unheard of for people to be accused, tried, and found guilty of crimes they are eventually proven to be innocent of. If there is any chance that she is not guilty of anything more than being a crack addict she should be given a new trial.

    She got a bad attorney, and like it or not, she deserves a fair trial.

    • Naked Truth says:

      Let her family pay 100% of the court cost. Based on the content of the videos, she is a liar. She had drugs and she lied about them. What else is she lying about? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

  13. Out of curiosity, and because I have had a chance to get to know Mrs. Hill and Ms. Kellam’s daughter well; I decided to check this information out on the internet. I first looked at the DEA website which reports this case in detail. It mentioned on their report that Adelson Michel, Howard Felix, and several others were the “main people” who brought the drugs from FL and cooked the cocaine to create crack. Mr. Michel is due out of jail in 2025, which made his sentence around 20 years or so. Mr. Felix gets out of jail this month, so that would be around a 5 year sentence. As you go down through the article, you find a couple of women who were accused on the same level as Ms. Kellam. Ms. Sloane is already out of jail and Ms. Curry is due out in 2012. Maybe there were extenuating circumstances with Ms. Kellam, I do not that. However, it is a glaring discrepancy that the “Main Man” gets out in 2025 and Ms. Kellam is in for life; and women charged with similar counts are either out or getting out soon.

    I believe in cases like this, and in death penalty cases; witnesses are often of the utmost importance. I find it scary that people who commit crimes right along with the defendants can testify against the defendants. I am sure there are instances where their testaments are truthful, but I cringe to think what can happen to person based on untruths if the testaments are not truthful. How easy would it be for anyone who knew someone well, to give seemingly accurate information against that person. Especially, if giving the information would lighten any problems you were facing. I am hoping that Ms. Johnson’s word was not a major factor in determining Ms. Kellam’s sentence.

    And, on a personal note (because I have tried to be objective in the above paragraphs); Mrs. Hill is an absolutely wonderful grandmother who takes an interest in all that her granddaughter does. While working with her granddaughter in a group setting, I saw that she was always close by in case she was needed. Her granddaughter’s needs were all met; while she remains a great, unspoiled young woman. Thank goodness, at least we know she is in good hands while her mother is away. I truly do not believe Mrs. Hill would make those statements to play “the race card” or would object if she thought her daughter got what she deserved. She is quite a no nonsense, upfront type of woman.

    • No, the only reason she’s complaining now is because Thomson was busted for drugs recently, so she’s using that to get her [redacted] daughter out of jail early.

    • Naked Truth says:

      It sounds like Ms Hill did a wonderful job raising her daughter. I hope she doen’t repeat it with her grand-daughter. The bottom line is this. Stay away from drugs and drug dealers. If she would have followed that logic we wouldn’t be talking about her. I find it funny how you question the honesty of the other defendants, but this liar you believe whole-hearted. Did you not see the video?
      I seriously doubt that out of all the defendants ,they singled her out for stiffer punishment. Maybe she got life, plus 30 because she deserved it.

      • I doubt they singled her out, also. I never at any point said I believed Ms. Kellams story. I doubt her or any of the others involved ranked truth as a priority during this situation. I did research considered the facts and then pointed out that there are inconsistencies in this case. Maybe Ms. Kellam had a past record that added to her sentence or maybe she had a lawyer who was not as capable as the others’ due to his own addiction. Either way there are inconsistencies in her sentencing versus the others. I also hope that Ms Hill’s granddaughter ends up with a better life than Ms Kellam’s. Of course, I am an optimist, I even have hopes for your children not to be rightwingers or naked truthers. 🙂

    • The reason why she was sentence to life was because of her past history and the fact she didn’t take a deal like the rest of the individuals. They offered her 20 years in prison and she chose not to take deal. She was found guilty and based on sentencing guidelines she recieved a life sentence plus 30 years. The Trooper doesn’t know why she was reaching into the car and what she was reaching for so he needs to take every precaution. Many officer died each year in the line of duty during traffic stops because not every stop is a routine stop and they can never know what is going to happen.