Attorneys for Minnesota Vikings kicker Donald Igwebuike will use opening statements in his drug smuggling trial to respond to allegations that he financed an attempt to bring heroin into Florida from Nigeria.
A federal jury will begin hearing testimony today after prosecutors outline their case against the football player and defense counsel gets an opportunity to present Igwebuike's side of the story.Meanwhile, a second co-defendant in the case agreed to plead guilty to importing more than half a pound of heroin into Orlando International Airport. However, Maduwuba Ibekwe will not be asked to testify for the government under a plea agreement that awaits court approval today.
Igwebuike, 31, faces up to 120 years in prison and $6 million in fines if convicted of smuggling conspiracy, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and importation of heroin.
The athlete pleaded innocent in November, and his attorneys have said he's a victim of circumstantial evidence that includes a plane ticket Igwebuike purchased for Ibekwe and tapes of telephone conversations conducted in English and Ibo, the principle native language of eastern Nigeria.
Ibekwe, 31, was arrested Oct. 11 at the Orlando airport where a search by U.S. Customs agent revealed three pellets containing heroin stuffed in his pants. He was later admitted to a hospital where he passed 28 additional encased pellets that prosecutors say were swallowed before boarding a flight from Lagos, Nigeria.
Attorneys for Ibekwe went to court last month to ask that the heroin as well as statements the Nigerian made in Orlando be suppressed because Customs officials repeatedly denied his requests for an attorney.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich on Monday sided with defense attorney Ricky Williams' contention that Ibekwe was denied an opportunity to seek counsel and ruled that statements made at the airport and in the hospital shouldn't be allowed into evidence.
She also strongly criticized Customs' handling of the arrest, saying in a 26-page order that Ibekwe's constitutional rights were violated after he was taken to the hospital. Once there, the court found, Ibekwe was forced to submit to physical examinations and other procedures that helped him pass the containers of heroin.
"What will the Customs service be `entitled' to do next to a defendant suspected of internal drug smuggling?" the order concluded. "This court hopes it does not have to find out in another case."