Criminal’s career may end as lifer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 5, 2001


EDGARD – After a 15-year career in crime that includes four felony convictions and 70 charges against him, a LaPlace man may finally be retiring to a prison cell for a life sentence. Charles Stewart, 35, took the crime route in 1984 and has moved steadily along the path ever since, committing robbery, dealing drugs and even leading authorities on a fast-paced foot chase through Cambridge Subdivision after he escaped last month. He was found guilty of distribution of narcotics by a jury Tuesday afternoon. After attempting to sell crack cocaine to an undercover officer, Stewart was arrested on distribution charges in March. He tried to sell .47 grams of the drug to the officer for $40, and police got it on tape. While out on $25,000 bond for that, Stewart was picked up and booked with possession of cocaine after someone gave police a tip that he was carrying drugs. Bond for the possession charges was originally set at $30,000 but was later changed to $60,000, and while being held for those charges, Stewart escaped from authorities. The distribution charges alone could get Stewart a life sentence because of his prior convictions. Normally, the charges would have a minimum sentence of five and maximum of 30 years. Stewart is looking at a 10-year minimum sentence. Also charged in the past with attempted first-degree murder, simple battery, simple assault, resisting officers, damaging property, fugitive warrants and escape and parole violations, Stewart may not be able to avoid a lengthy sentence. Though he has served time for his other convictions, the number of times he has committed crimes may affect his sentencing. Stewart’s latest criminal activity came about three weeks before his Tuesday trial, when he escaped authorities after court at the Arcuri Center on Cambridge Drive. After rounding a corner when deputies briefly lost sight of him, Stewart climbed into the trunk of a parked vehicle waiting for him and remained there until authorities forced him out. For the simple escape charges, Stewart could get two to five years added onto his existing sentence. According to courthouse officials, there will most likely be a presentencing investigation conducted to determine effective sentencing for Stewart. His probation officer will probably have family members and friends send letters in his defense. Stewart could also receive a multiple-bill sentencing, meaning that his numerous previous charges would be taken into consideration and could get him a harsher sentence. Sentencing for the distribution charges is set for August 22, but St. John Parish Sheriff Wayne L. Jones is hoping to fast-track that sentencing. “We want to get this guy out of our hair, send him to DOC. We’d like to move this sentencing up if possible,” said Jones. “This fellow here was probably one of the biggest dealers on the streets.” Jones added he is very familiar with Stewart, who he has come in contact with frequently throughout his own career. “Getting this guy off the street is a very big accomplishment. He is a product of his own environment, but he is being disrespectful to the people in his own community,” said Jones, stating that Stewart dealt drugs on Northwest First Street in Reserve where he grew up. “It’s a drug-free zone, too. He could get double the penalty for that. Citizens in that area are always complaining. We are pursuing other dealers in the Reserve area,” he said. Jones added he is proud of the narcotics agents who worked the Stewart case. “Undercover work is a very dangerous job. We had a very solid case. The jury deliberated for less than an hour. We had it all on tape, and that’s what it takes.” Stewart is being held at the Sherman R. Correctional Center, and his bond is set at $500,000. “I’m just really proud of our department,” said Jones. “If I had to deem Stewart, I’d deem him as a menace to society.”