Christopher Lee Willingham and Christi Lynn Etheridge entered guilty pleas on Tuesday afternoon in Bartow County Superior Court Judge Carey Nelson’s courtroom to charges stemming from a July 2013 drug case. The remaining five defendants — Samuel Lawrence Ayers, Dustin Bradley Bush, Brandon Shea Etheridge, Timothy Glen Etheridge and Dylan Cade Williams — were absolved of the charges handed down in an October 2013 grand jury indictment.
Willingham pled guilty to sale of marijuana, two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, possession of firearm or knife during commission of or attempt to commit certain felonies, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce VGCSA and window tint violation. He was sentenced to 30 years with five years to serve incarcerated.
Christi Etheridge pled guilty to possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce. She was sentenced to 12 months probation.
On July 23, 2013, agents from the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force executed a search warrant at 49 Benefield Circle after Willingham was arrested during a traffic stop on Interstate 75.
In a bond hearing in July, the DTF agent said Ayers, Brandon Etheridge, Bush and Williams were found inside Willingham’s bedroom playing video games. Located in the room, in plain view, was a glass smoking device and a metallic grinder containing marijuana.
According to the agent, the subsequent search of the room by agents turned up approximately 6 to 6 1/2 ounces of ecstasy, or MDMA; a plastic bag containing a green, leafy substance suspected to be marijuana; and a firearm. About 25 capsules containing molly, or the molecular form of MDMA, were found in the top drawer of a TV stand next to the bed. Also in that drawer was a .380 Ruger pistol, along with marijuana. Inside a subwoofer by the door to the room was a bag that contained more than 1 ounce of suspected MDMA. In addition, two bags of suspected MDMA were located inside the closet of that room in a shirt pocket.
Also found, in an empty room upstairs on the opposite end of the hallway, was a glass jar containing between 2 and 3 ounces of marijuana. The room was allegedly unused by the residents of the household.
On Tuesday, Willingham took responsibility for the drugs and gun, saying none of the four teenagers were involved.
“... I’m going to ask you a few questions about the people who were at your house the day the search warrant was executed, Mr. Samuel Ayers, Mr. Dustin Bush, Mr. Brandon Etheridge and Dylan Williams,” said Assistant District Attorney Erle Newton. “Did they ever help you procure the drugs that were found in your residence?”
“No, sir,” Willingham answered.
“Did they have any knowledge that the controlled substances, the pills, were in your residence?” Newton asked.
“Did they have any knowledge that marijuana was in the residence?”
“Did you ever discuss with them any drug sales or any drug possession?” Newton asked.
“No, sir,” Willingham said.
“Is it your sworn testimony that they had no involvement whatsoever and it was a mere coincidence that they were at your residence that day?”
“[As to your parents,] Did they have any involvement in the drugs that were found in your residence, that were found upstairs?” Newton asked.
“No, sir,” Willingham said.
“As to the gun, did anybody know about the gun?”
During the July bond hearing, the DTF agent said Willingham did not take responsibility for the substances, but did claim knowledge of what was in his room. The four defendants admitted to knowledge of the illegal substance to varying degrees. Specifically, Etheridge claimed knowledge of the marijuana and ecstasy. The others claimed knowledge of Willingham’s involvement in narcotics and that they could smell the marijuana once they entered the residence, according to the agent’s July testimony.
None of the four defendants were targets at the time of the search warrant, according to the agent in July, but Etheridge was present at the time of a controlled purchase during the course of the investigation.
Christi Etheridge, during her plea, told Newton that her husband, Timothy Etheridge, had no involvement in procuring the marijuana located in the residence, nor did he use or possess the drug.
The pleas follow a denied motion last week by the seven defendants to have the search warrant suppressed on the grounds it was invalid.