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Grand Forks man appeals sentence of life in prison from federal drug trafficking case

FARGO--A Grand Forks man sentenced to life in prison for trafficking drugs throughout the region is appealing his time behind bars, arguing again that he should be acquitted and receive a new trial.

FARGO--A Grand Forks man sentenced to life in prison for trafficking drugs throughout the region is appealing his time behind bars, arguing again that he should be acquitted and receive a new trial.

Jose Luis Delacruz, 38, also known as Joe Delacruz, received the hefty sentence in April for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of methamphetamine, in addition to a consecutive seven-year sentence for brandishing a firearm during the commission of drug trafficking.

Over the course of the conspiracy, co-conspirators received meth from Delacruz and sold it primarily in the Grand Forks area. U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said the trafficking ring distributed more than 500 grams of a mixture containing meth.

The day he was sentenced, Delacruz said he planned to appeal the sentence, and now his case sits in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals as he makes three arguments on why he should be acquitted and receive a new trial. Delacruz has argued for these before while his case was ongoing, but he was turned down.

In his latest appeal, Delacruz argued he should be acquitted because there was a difference in what he was charged with and the evidence the prosecution presented at his trial. Delacruz argues in his appeal that he was charged with a single conspiracy.

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"However, the evidence presented by the government at trial presented two related, but competing conspiracies," the appeal states.

By using evidence from both conspiracies at the trial, there was "spillover prejudice," affecting his case, he argues in the appeal.

In addition to being acquitted, Delacruz makes two arguments that he should receive a new trial. One of the arguments has popped up before in his case: ineffective counsel. Initially, Delacruz was represented by Theodore Sandberg, who now represents Nicolas Peralez Jr., who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Grand Forks County District Court, and Matthew Gust, who pleaded guilty to the December fire at a Grand Forks Somali restaurant in federal court. But because of a "potential conflict," Sandberg withdrew and Delacruz was assigned Brian Toay, an attorney out of Fargo-Moorhead. Delacruz and Toay had some trouble communicating from the beginning, and Delacruz asked multiple times for a new lawyer, even immediately before his trial started, but his motions were denied, according to the appeal.

After a three-day jury trial, Delacruz was found guilty May 13, 2015, on the charges. But after Delacruz filed a disciplinary complaint against Toay, the court granted him a new lawyer, Jade Rosenfeldt, of Vogel Law Firm in Moorhead.

In his appeal, Delacruz is once again asking for a new lawyer. In a motion filed May 3, Rosenfeldt asked to be taken off the case after Delacruz left her a message saying he didn't want her as his attorney anymore, according to the motion. The court said she could withdraw Thursday, and a new attorney hasn't been listed for Delacruz.

Finally, Delacruz argued the evidence presented at his trial leaves a possibility of "miscarriage of justice." More specifically, "the case against Mr. Delacruz consists almost entirely of testimony, and not physical evidence," the appeal states. The testimony was from "biased" and "unreliable witnesses" who testified to have more lenient sentences in their cases, according to the appeal, and the witnesses "were inconsistent with each other," even "contradicting themselves." At least three of the other people listed in Delacruz's federal case testified as his trial.

In addition to Delacruz, four other trafficking ring members have been sentenced to prison terms: Patrick James Peltier, five years; Anthony James Farrell, four years; Kimberly Ann Ratliff, 10 years; and Brian Joseph McMahan, 2½ years.

With Delacruz's appeal filed, prosecutors can respond and make arguments, before Delacruz can argue his case again. Then a decision would be made on Delacruz's appeal.

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