Federal murder, racketeering case vanishes, ends in drug offense plea after witness is killed

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LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — A federal murder and racketeering case collapsed Wednesday into a guilty plea to a single drug offense a year after a key witness in the case was killed in Louisville.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, Dion Dajuan Neal agreed to a sentence of time served in custody — about 40 months — in exchange for the most serious charges against him being dropped.

Neal and Ricky Lewis Kelly were charged in 2011 with killing LaJuante "B.B." Jackson in 2005 in furtherance of a drug trafficking enterprise. A day earlier, federal prosecutors dismissed the federal charges against Kelly, citing the death of Greg Sawyers, who was found dead July 13, 2013.

Kelly has since been charged in state court with Jackson's death. He is being held on a $500,000 full cash bond and will be arraigned Aug. 25 by Circuit Judge Angela McCormick Bisig.

One of Neal's attorneys, Tim McCall, told reporters after the plea hearing in U.S. District Court that there no requirements that Neal assist state prosecutors with their case against Kelly.

"There's no cooperation agreement. None," McCall said.

Neal's family declined to speak with reporters as they left the courthouse.

The federal case against Kelly and Neal had been considered a possible capital prosecution before federal authorities opted not to seek the death penalty.

The case against Kelly and Neal had deep — and violent — roots in Louisville. Kelly had been facing eight murder charges in state court in 2010, with many of the slayings involving the death of witnesses in other cases. State prosecutors dropped those charges when the federal government sought to prosecute Kelly, who has multiple drug convictions on his record. They later charged Neal with paying Kelly to kill Jackson.

Sawyers, who provided police with information about three open homicides, signed a deal with prosecutors in April 2010 to testify against Kelly. Sawyers told investigators he saw Kelly shoot Jackson and take money from Neal.

In a conversation surreptitiously recorded in 2012 in prison by the Secret Service and Louisville Metro Police, Kelly described to another inmate how he had used one of his guns — a .45-caliber pistol — to kill Jackson, a rival dealer.

"First shot hit him in the chest," Kelly told inmate Rico English, who was wearing a body wire. "I dropped that mother. ... Pop, pop pop. ... I put 36 slugs in his face and stood on his head."

The deal was supposed to have been secret to protect Sawyers, who was serving time in the Frankfort jail as a federally protected witness. Five days after reaching the agreement, unknown assailants attacked Sawyers.

A former employee in the public defender's office, Shanion Thurman, and a friend, James "Jimmy" Robinson, were charged with conspiring with Kelly to arrange for Sawyers to be attacked in jail. Thurman was acquitted of the charge. Robinson was found guilty and sentenced in March to two years in federal prison.

In the plea on Wednesday, Neal admitted to trying to flush 33 grams of cocaine down a toilet as police moved to arrest him in 2011.

Neal, wearing glasses, a black-and-white prison jump suit and shackles on his feet, answered "yes, sir" and "no, sir" to questions from U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II during the brief hearing. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 18, but Heyburn indicated it could be held sooner. Neal, who has not been charged in state court, will become eligible for release at the end of that hearing.

"We're glad it's over," McCall said.

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Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

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