CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal jury decided Monday not to impose the death penalty on a Mingo County drug dealer convicted of ordering the 2005 killing of a federal drug informant.
Last week, the jury convicted George M. "Porgy" Lecco, 60, on all counts in a 12-count indictment, including three that could carry the death penalty, triggering a penalty phase in the trial. After several days of testimony in the sentencing phase, the jury began deliberating on Friday.
"Today, justice has been served," said U.S. Attorney Charles T. Miller in a prepared statement. "The actions of this defendant have had a devastating impact on the family of the victim and upon our community. The message is clear -- those who would commit murder to protect their drug business have no place in our community."
During the trial, the jury heard testimony that Lecco had 33-year-old Carla Collins killed to protect the cocaine ring run out of Pizza Plus, Lecco's Red Jacket restaurant. Federal authorities had raided the pizzeria in February 2005, and Lecco had enlisted Collins to work undercover for investigators to try to reduce his potential drug charges.
Lecco continued to sell cocaine, and when agents informed him that he was the target of an investigation and no longer receiving credit for cooperating, Lecco became convinced that Collins told the police about his ongoing drug dealing, prosecutors said.
At Lecco's behest, his employee Patricia Burton, 41, and Valerie Friend, 47, shot and beat Collins to death in an abandoned trailer on Double Camp Hollow in the early morning hours of April 16, 2005, according to testimony. Burton and Friend have entered into plea deals with prosecutors over their roles in Collins' murder.
In 2007, before Friend entered a plea to avoid the death penalty, she and Lecco were tried together and convicted, and that jury recommended the death penalty for both. U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. overturned that verdict because of juror misconduct, and Friend struck a deal with prosecutors and agreed to testify against Lecco in the re-trial.
Lecco's defense argued that Burton attacked Collins out of jealousy over the attention paid to the younger women by Lecco, and Friend joined in the deadly assault after a long, cocaine-fueled drive around the Red Jacket area that culminated in the fateful visit to the trailer.