Five Georgia men indicted for illegal firearm, drug possession; 20 others sentenced

Crime News

GEORGIA (WJBF) – Five individuals are facing federal charges related to illegal firearm possession as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Project Safe Neighborhoods is a collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI, in an effort to reduce violent crime by targeting those who illegally possess firearms.

Those facing charges are:

  • James Kenneth Merritt, 35, of Waynesboro, Ga., charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon; Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person, related to a prior conviction for domestic violence; and Possession of Methamphetamine;
  • Rodney Eric Strickland, 42,of Waynesboro, charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine; Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon; and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime;
  • Vesenta Cornelius Watson, 46, of Augusta, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and Possession of a Firearm with an Obliterated Serial Number; 
  • Barry McCormick, 26, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and Possession of Marijuana; and,
  • Joseph Deon Cuyler, 29, of Wrightsville, Ga., charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon.

“Removing guns from the hands of convicted felons is an essential part of fighting violent crime in our community,” said David H. Estes, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “We welcome the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office and its District Attorney, former U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine, in joining us to keep our communities safer.” 

Additional individuals have recently been adjudicated on federal charges that include illegal firearms possession:

  • Michael Venetez McRae, 37, of Hephzibah, sentenced to 235 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release and fined $1,500 after being convicted at trial for Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and Possession of Cocaine. Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies arrested McRae Jan. 5, 2019, while investigating a report of domestic violence. Adjudicated as an armed career criminal, McRae has multiple prior felony convictions including those for drug trafficking.
  • Letrail Jerome West, 43, of Augusta, was sentenced to 51 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and fined $2,500 after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine. During an investigation into drug sales from an Augusta motel room, Richmond County Sheriff’s investigators found West in possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, cash, and an assault-style rifle with a high-capacity magazine. 
  • Michael Alvin Jackson, 44, of Savannah, was sentenced to 41 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Jackson was charged Aug. 11, 2019, when a pistol fell from his waistband as he ran away from Savannah Police officers.
  • Zachary Brent Sadler, 27, of Augusta, was sentenced five years’ probation after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Sadler admitted pawning a handgun in October 2019, and he later was charged by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when he attempted to repurchase the gun and was denied during a background check.
  • Tona Nikia Wright, 47, of Augusta, was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and fined $1,000 after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by an Illegal Drug User, and Violation of Security Regulations and Orders regarding Department of Defense properties. Wright admitted that she was an unlawful user of cocaine and marijuana, and that on April 30, 2020, she entered a controlled access point at Fort Gordon Military Reservation without properly reporting the Taurus .380 caliber pistol in her possession. 
  • Kijordan Markel Ceaser, 22, of Thomson, Ga., was sentenced to 32 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Illegal Receipt of a Firearm by a Person Under Indictment. Ceaser, who was on parole after a conviction on felony state charges, admitted illegally possessing a pistol when agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Department of Community Supervision searched his residence Sept. 17, 2020.
  • Jerry Allen Edenfield, 30, of Swainsboro, Ga., was sentenced to 32 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon.
  • Clifford Lee Stone Jr., 29, of Wrens, Ga., was sentenced to 51 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and fined $1,500 after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Stone admitted illegally possessing an assault-style rifle on April 28, 2018, when he fled from a Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy, first in a car and then on foot.
  • Timetrius Dontrel Neal, 23, of Thomson, Ga., was sentenced to 60 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and fined $1,500 after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person, referring to a prior conviction on a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Neal, who was on felony probation on a state charge, was arrested Oct. 22, 2020, when a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force officer and an officer from the Georgia Department of Community Supervision searched Neal’s residence and found a pistol with an extended magazine.
  • Joe Lewis Hills, a/k/a “Polo,” a/k/a “David Owens,” 33, of Augusta, was sentenced to 57 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession with Intent to Distribute Heroin and Marijuana, and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Hills was arrested with a co-defendant July 29, 2019, after Richmond County Sheriff’s investigators searched a hotel room rented to Hills and found drugs and an AR-15-style rifle with two loaded, high-capacity magazines. Hills served a previous federal prison sentence for armed robbery of a bank and was on supervised release at the time of his arrest.
  • Newman Everette Tryon, 39, of Savannah, was sentenced to 43 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Tryon admitted illegally possessing a revolver when he was arrested Oct. 30, 2019, by Savannah Police. 
  • Robert Kenneth Williams, 32, of Augusta, was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and fined $1,000 after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies found Williams in possession of a pistol in April 2020 in a motel parking lot.
  • Quieaton Freeman, 22, of Augusta, was sentenced to 46 months in prison, ordered to serve three years of supervised release and fined $2,000 after pleading guilty to Possession of Firearms by an Illegal Drug User. Freeman was one of eight defendants indicted in 2019 in Operation Snowfall, involving an investigation of a cocaine trafficking conspiracy in the Augusta area. All of the defendants pled guilty and are serving prison sentences.
  • Khallid Marquese Wright, 24, of Augusta, was sentenced to 30 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and fined $1,500 after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Wright was found in possession of a firearm in February 2020 when he was stopped by Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies for questioning in an unrelated case.
  • Jamerson Brandon Turner, 28, of Augusta, was sentenced to eight months of home confinement, three years of supervised release and fined $1,200 after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Turner admitted illegally possessing a pistol when questioned May 15, 2020, by Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies.
  • James Stallings III, 29, of Augusta, was sentenced to 60 months in prison and ordered to serve three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Stallings in June 2020 while investigating reports of a man firing shots outside an Augusta hotel when they found a pistol and identified Stallings from surveillance footage. Stallings has a prior state conviction for illegal firearms possession.
  • Charles Kevin Matthews, 50, of Washington, Ga., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Matthews was on parole for a prior state conviction when investigators found a pistol in his possession during a search of his residence.
  • Christopher Lewis Tucker, 21, of Thomson, Ga., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to False Statement During Purchase of a Firearm. Tucker related to his illegal purchase of a pistol at a Thomson pawn shop in April 2021.
  • Darryl Kinloch, 29, of Savannah, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Kinloch was charged in February 2020 when Savannah Police officers found two pistols in his car during a traffic stop.
  • Sundiadaa Miller, 33, of Savannah, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Possession of Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Miller, who was on parole after a felony conviction for armed robbery, was arrested in January 2020 by Savannah Police officers after he was found in possession of a pistol.

For more information on the lawful purchasing of firearms, please see: https://www.atf.gov/qa-category/atf-form-4473.

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