GULFPORT -- A Harrison County jury has found a Texas minister guilty of possession with intent to distribute 200 pounds of marijuana.
Judge Larry Bourgeois sentenced the Rev. Henry Jackson Parker Jr., 71, of Houston, to 20 years in prison after the verdict was returned late Wednesday night. The judge suspended 10 years, leaving 10 years to serve.
District Attorney Joel Smith said the jury heard testimony that a Harrison County deputy sheriff found the pot in cattle-feed bags in the trunk of Parker's vehicle in a traffic stop Sept. 18, 2010. The car was eastbound on Interstate 10 when a deputy stopped it on a careless driving violation near the Canal Road exit.
Sheriff's Lt. Ryan Hearn told the jury the marijuana had such a pungent smell that it would be noticeable to anyone in the vehicle. He estimated its street value at $150,000 to $200,000.
Parker testified it was a rental car and he didn't know marijuana was in the truck.
The deputy who pulled him over testified Parker was sweating, nervous and gave inconsistent statements on his travel plans.
Parker testified he is a minister who helps young men set up businesses and he was bound for Moss Point to meet with a group of men, Smith said. Parker estimated he has made the trip five to 10 times.
Under cross examination, Parker admitted the men would take the rental car for about 30 minutes and bring it back to him before he returned to Texas, Smith said.
The jury deliberated about an hour.
Smith said Parker had one prior felony conviction for a theft from 2001.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Jason Josef and Alison Baker.