Crime & Courts

Man whose lawyer fell asleep in first trial pleads guilty Thursday

Nick Mackey celebrates a temporary election victory in 2007. In a Democratic Party special election to replace former Sheriff Jim Pendergraph, officials chose Mackey over longtime Chief Deputy Chipp Bailey. But the state party nullified the election after finding that many precincts had been improperly organized.
Nick Mackey celebrates a temporary election victory in 2007. In a Democratic Party special election to replace former Sheriff Jim Pendergraph, officials chose Mackey over longtime Chief Deputy Chipp Bailey. But the state party nullified the election after finding that many precincts had been improperly organized. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

A Charlotte man whose 2006 drug convictions were overturned because his lawyer, former state legislator Nick Mackey, fell asleep during the trial, pleaded guilty in the case Thursday. But he faces considerably less time in prison this time around.

In March, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Nicholas Ragin’s convictions and ordered the case back to U.S. District Court in Charlotte.

The appeals court ruled that Ragin was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel after finding that Mackey, a Charlotte lawyer, slept through part of the trial. Mackey has denied he fell asleep.

Ragin, 36, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine, which carries 19.5 years in prison. His sentencing date has not been set.

Ragin was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison after he was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine and conspiracy to commit coercion and enticement of women to engage in prostitution.

Court records show Ragin was part of a drug conspiracy that operated in Charlotte from 2001 until October 2004.

In 2004, a federal grand jury indicted Ragin and six others in connection with prostitution and drug rings. Some of the prostitutes were minors, according to court documents. Ragin pleaded not guilty, went to trial in Charlotte and was convicted.

In overturning Ragin’s original convictions and sentence, the 4th Circuit Court ruled that Mackey, his court-appointed lawyer, repeatedly nodded off during his trial.

“Based on this record, we find it impossible not to conclude that Mackey slept, and was therefore not functioning as a lawyer during a substantial portion of the trial,” the judges wrote.

Mackey rose to prominence during a failed bid to become Mecklenburg sheriff in 2007.

In a Democratic Party special election to replace former Sheriff Jim Pendergraph, officials chose Mackey over longtime Chief Deputy Chipp Bailey. But the state party nullified the election after finding that many precincts had been improperly organized.

County commissioners stepped in and appointed Bailey as sheriff in 2008. But in a political comeback later that year, Mackey was voted into the N.C. General Assembly.

After serving one term as a state representative, Mackey lost his seat in the May 2010 primary race. That same month, the N.C. State Bar suspended Mackey’s license in a case officials said involved “acts of dishonesty” and “a pattern of misconduct.” The bar reinstated Mackey’s license in 2011.

In a statement sent to the Observer in March, Mackey said the allegations leveled against him in the Ragin case were untrue “and are the result of the most contentious political battle for Sheriff in Charlotte, North Carolina’s history.”

Mackey said in his statement that he spent “countless hours” preparing to defend Ragin and was “extremely happy to learn that his appeal was successful!!”

Staff Writer Ames Alexander contributed.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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