Three men headed to trial for drug bust in abandoned Butler building
Despite arguments from their respective attorneys, three men will see their drug-related charges moved to the county level.
State police accuse the three men — Jayvon D. Craighead, 27, of Wilmerding, Jory C. Melik, 32, of Kittanning, and Aalijah A. Ridgley, 20, of North Versailles — of selling drugs out of a condemned building on the 100 block of Mackey Avenue.
Craighead and Melik, who is formerly of Butler, were brought from Butler County Prison for Tuesday’s preliminary hearing. They remain in jail on $75,000 bond each.
The third co-defendant, Ridgley, appeared in street clothes, having posted his $75,000 bond earlier this month.
The three men are facing the same 11 charges, including felony drug sales, possessing stolen property and trespass as well as misdemeanor drug and paraphernalia possession. According to court dockets, only Melik is charged with one other felony for illegally possessing a gun.
According to testimony by Trooper Andrew Andryka, police were monitoring 104 Mackey Ave. for about one month and had information about at least two drug sales at the location, allegedly by Melik alone.
On Dec. 15, state police searched 104 Mackey Ave., one of three row homes that share a building, but are inaccessible from within each home.
Andryka said as police entered, they didn’t find anyone inside, but one of the troopers watching the back of the building heard movement from the roof heading toward another of the row houses at 100 Mackey Ave. Andryka said officers also heard glass breaking.
Andryka said the three men had run across a back porch roof to get into 100 Mackey Ave., where officers found and detained them. He said police also found a broken second-story window and a camouflage bag in a spare furniture-less bedroom. He said inside the bag, police found 1 ounce of suspected crack cocaine.
“It was in a pouch you would wear around your waist, a fanny pack,” Andryka said.
Andryka said back at 104 Mackey Ave., police found a .380-caliber pistol in the furniture-less spare bedroom. Andryka said in the main bedroom, police found 18 stamp bags of suspected heroin or fentanyl and two digital scales. He said there were some belongings scattered around the master bedroom where the drugs were found as well as two forms of identification for Melik.
Andryka said he read Melik his rights and interviewed him at the scene. According to Andryka, Melik told officers that Ridgley and Craighead had been at the home for two days to sell drugs and attributed all of the items to them.
At Tuesday’s hearing, District Judge William Fullerton moved all charges forward to the Butler County Common Pleas Court, but not until after all three defense attorneys called for the dismissal of some or all of the charges against their clients.
“The commonwealth has failed to make a prima facie case,” said Chief Public Defender Charles Nedz on Melik’s behalf.
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for prosecutors to establish a prima facie case, or to show there is enough evidence in the case for a jury to decide upon.
Attorney Owen Seman, on behalf of Ridgley, said none of the items were found in anyone’s direct possession and claimed prosecutors were building a case based on constructive possession, which assumes a person possesses items not found on their person as long as that person knows the item is there and has the ability to take control of it.
During cross-examination, Andryka said all of the items were found in plain view in both homes. He said even the pistol, which was stolen from Clarksburg, W.Va., was found in an uncovered tote bag.
Seman said the drugs and gun were found in abandoned buildings. He said all of the items were small and easily concealable, so one of the men may have brought the items without one or both of the others knowing.
“The entire identification is through interviews with Mr. Melik, who is the subject of the one-month investigation,” Seman said.
Andryka said Craighead and Ridgley were not interviewed.
Attorney Joel Hills, on behalf of Craighead, said prosecutors had not supplied any evidence linking the items to anyone in particular. He said despite a lengthy investigation, there has been no confirmation that any of the substances were identified.
“I have the utmost sympathy for investigators, but this is a bridge too far,” Hills said.
During cross-examination, Andryka said the substances were not field tested and were being lab tested at a state police facility in Greensburg. He said he used his many years as part of the state police VICE unit to evaluate the substances and as such suspected them to be drugs.
Assistant District Attorney J.P. Kulzer agreed that prosecutors were building a case of constructive possession, a valid one.
“I think based on the totality of the evidence, the court can hold these charges over,” Kulzer said.
All three men are scheduled to appear next for formal arraignment March 22 in county court.