This house in the Riverview neighborhood in South Memphis was used by the Craig Petties organization, according to law enforcement. Petties grew up nearby. Image by Alan Spearman. United States, 2010.

Since the publication of the series “Blood Trade: Memphis and the Mexican Drug War” in 2010, the Craig Petties case has taken several dramatic turns.

In February 2011, prosecutors in Memphis revealed that Petties had secretly pleaded guilty more than a year earlier to a total of 19 counts in an indictment, including participation in four killings and trafficking both cocaine and marijuana.

The plea confirmed the broad outlines of the allegations against Petties: that the Memphis trafficker lived in Mexico and used cell phones to ship a Mexican cartel’s drugs into the United States and to order assassinations of rivals in Memphis.

This year, two alleged hit men for the Petties organization, cousins Clinton Lewis and Martin Lewis, went on trial in federal court in Memphis.

Fifteen of the witnesses for the prosecution were former members of the drug trafficking organization, and defense lawyers repeatedly told jurors that these witnesses had an incentive to lie in exchange for lighter sentences. Defense lawyers asked for a mistrial after some witnesses gave contradictory accounts. But the judge didn’t grant the request.

Petties himself was on the government’s witness list, but he was never called to testify.

Still, the trial provided new details about the case’s international dimensions – prosecution witnesses said that Petties worked directly with Edgar Valdez Villareal, an American better known as “La Barbie.” Valdez is believed to have been a high-ranking member of the Beltran Leyva organization and was captured in Mexico in 2010.

The trial lasted about six weeks.

The jury cleared Clinton Lewis of killing Marcus Turner, the man whose body was found naked in a ditch near Memphis. But the jury convicted Clinton Lewis on other charges, including kidnapping Turner.

Jurors convicted Martin Lewis on counts including killing Mario McNeil inside a wings restaurant.

Both Petties and the Lewis cousins will likely be sentenced to life in prison later this year.

Project

A hardened criminal from the streets of Memphis. One of the biggest drug cartels in Mexico. The corruption, cash, and demand for drugs that fuels an illegal, deadly trade -- and the consequences, for Mexicans and Americans alike.

Recently

March 12, 2013 /
Jennifer McDonald, Meghan Dhaliwal
Journalists Nick Miroff and Daniel Connolly visit DC classrooms, photographer Louie Palu joins them at George Washington University, for a discussion on drug trafficking and US-Mexico border issues.
February 14, 2013 /
Louie Palu, Nick Miroff
Did you ever wonder what a day on the job might be like for a journalist reporting from one of the most deadly areas in the world? Find out from three Pulitzer Center grantees covering drug wars.