A Winston-Salem man convicted of transporting heroin claims in court papers that his attorney failed to investigate evidence that he could not have known illegal drugs were in the car that was later stopped by law-enforcement authorities in 2013.

If his attorney had investigated and presented that evidence, Rudolph Coles Jr. said he wouldn’t have been convicted and he wouldn’t be serving up to 23 years in prison, according to court documents.

Coles, 63, who authorities alleged was a member of the well-known drug-trafficking organization, the Detroit Boys, will have a chance to make his case in Forsyth Superior Court after a ruling earlier this month by the N.C. Supreme Court. State prosecutors oppose Coles’ appeal.

Coles was one of five men Winston-Salem police arrested during a traffic stop on Oct. 28, 2013. Police seized more than 12 ounces of heroin from the rented Ford Explorer that Coles was driving, and authorities alleged that he and another man, Terrance Poindexter, had gone to Detroit to get a large supply of heroin and bring it back to Winston-Salem to sell and distribute.

In 2017, Coles went on trial on three charges — one count of trafficking in heroin by transportation, one count of trafficking in heroin by possession and one count of conspiracy to traffic in heroin. A Forsyth County jury only found him guilty of one charge — the trafficking heroin by transportation. He was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years and nine months to a maximum of 23 years and six months in prison.

Coles appealed, and the N.C. Court of Appeals vacated his conviction, ruling that the trial judge made an error in giving jury instructions. The N.C. Attorney General’s Office, which represents Forsyth County prosecutors, filed a petition, asking the N.C. Supreme Court to review the lower appellate court’s decision. Coles also filed a motion for appropriate relief, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel.

On Dec. 4, the N.C. Supreme Court said in an order that it was necessary for a superior court judge in Forsyth to hold a hearing, consider evidence and issue a decision on Coles’ motion for appropriate relief. The legal proceedings on state prosecutors’ petition will be placed on hold until a decision on the motion for appropriate relief is made in Forsyth Superior Court.

The issue in Coles’ appeal is whether Forsyth County prosecutors had sufficient proof that Coles knew illegal drugs were in the vehicle when police stopped him in 2013.

Michelle Goldman, Coles’ appellate attorney, said in court papers that the answer is no.

Prosecutors never presented any evidence that Coles was even a member of the Detroit Boys, a drug-trafficking organization that authorities alleged had been in operation since the 1990s, Goldman said in court papers. Ryan McCormick, an agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, wrote a report summarizing an investigation into a planned trip to Detroit to get a supply of heroin.

The report outlined the wiretaps that recorded conversations between Poindexter and Terrance Coles. Both men were leaders in the Detroit Boys. The wiretaps also recorded conversations between Poindexter and Tyrone Conyers, who lived in Detroit and whom authorities believed was a middleman for the drug transaction.

The report also talked about authorities conducting surveillance on the Ford Explorer as it traveled through Detroit. Goldman said authorities used GPS and other data to show the stops the Ford Explorer made while in Detroit.

In an affidavit, Coles said that between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Oct. 28, 2013, he was not driving the Ford Explorer because he had been dropped off at his daughter’s house. Rudea Coles, the youngest daughter of Rudolph Coles, said in an affidavit that her father was at her house during those hours.

McCormick’s report said that officers saw Poindexter follow instructions from Conyers to go to an apartment building. Poindexter is seen going into the apartment building, then coming out several minutes later. The report, according to court documents, said Poindexter had his hands in his coat pocket as he walked over to the Ford Explorer’s side (where the heroin was found later) for a period of time before getting into the driver’s seat and driving off. Goldman said the jury heard none of this evidence.

She argues that Coles’ attorney, Alexander Stubbs, was told by Coles that he was at his daughter’s house that morning and Stubbs also had access to McCormick’s report. Stubbs said in his affidavit that he talked to Coles about McCormick’s report while talking about trial strategy.

Stubbs did not return a message seeking comment.

Goldman also criticized the closing argument that Assistant District Attorney Elisabeth Dresel gave at trial. Goldman argues in court papers that Dresel knew evidence existed that showed Rudolph Coles was not driving when heroin was placed in the car and was not aware that illegal drugs were in the vehicle. Goldman said despite that knowledge, Dresel allowed the jury to think that such evidence didn’t exist.

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Joseph Hyde, prosecutor with the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, said in court papers that Dresel did nothing improper in her closing arguments and denied allegations that Stubbs failed to adequately represent Coles at trial.

A hearing on Coles’ appeal has not yet been set.

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