Federal appeals court upholds conviction of Clay County drug dealer

A federal appeals panel has refused to reverse the conviction and sentence of a Clay County drug dealer who pleaded guilty in a case that involved a murder.

The decision by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said Jimmy D. Benge waived his right to appeal the conviction and judgment as part of the plea deal.

The deal allowed Benge to escape the possibility of facing the death penalty.

The appeals panel said in the decision Monday that there was no error that would warrant reversing Benge’s conviction.

Benge was charged with heading a drug operation in which he arranged for others to get pill prescriptions in other states, then sold the drugs in Clay County.

A grand jury also charged that Benge, Gerald Lee Sizemore and Vernon Renus "Red" Delph conspired to kill Eli Marcum in Clay County in December 2012 because of a suspicion that Marcum had given police information about the drug operation.

Sizemore stabbed Marcum to death. Benge allegedly paid to have Marcum killed.

Benge pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to distribute drugs.

U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar sentenced him to 20 years in prison and ordered him to pay $23,500 in lieu of the government taking his house. Benge also was ordered to pay restitution of $6,500 to cover the cost of Marcum's funeral.

Thapar denied Benge’s request to withdraw his plea, which led to Benge’s appeal.