A criminal court jury of seven men and five women handed down a guilty verdict Friday afternoon against two men charged with initiation of a process to manufacture methamphetamine and reckless endangerment.
30 year old Scott B. Carroll, Jr. and 20 year old Francisco Bustamonte stood trial on the charges in DeKalb County Criminal Court. Judge David Patterson presided. The two men were accused of engaging in a process to make methamphetamine at a residence at 200 the Loop Circle in the Midway Community on January 23, 2011. The reason for the reckless endangerment charges was because the men were allegedly cooking meth in the presence of Carroll's sixteen year old sister-in-law, a juvenile, placing her in danger of serious bodily injury from the chemicals which produce a strong odor that is toxic. Another man, 19 year old Wesley J. Hayes, is also charged in the case but he did not stand trial Friday. His case remains pending in court.
After two hours of jury selection, the trial got underway shortly after 11:00 a.m. then broke for lunch at noon. The trial resumed at 1:00 p.m. and was completed shortly after 3:00 p.m. The jurors retired to the jury room to begin their deliberations at 3:20 p.m. and returned forty minutes later at 4:00 p.m. with a verdict.
In addition to Carroll and Bustamonte being found guilty as charged in the indictments, the jury imposed the maximum fines in the case, $27,500 against each man. That's $25,000 each for initiation and $2,500 for reckless endangerment.
A sentencing hearing for the two men has been scheduled for September 19th. Assistant District Attorney General Greg Strong told WJLE after the trial that Bustamonte faces a range of punishment of from 8-12 years as a range one offender while Carroll, who is classified as a career criminal, could get up to 30 years in prison.
The state called only three witnesses to testify in the case, Detective Jeremy Taylor and Deputy Caleb Meadows of the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Patrick Ray. The case was prosecuted by Assistant D.A's Greg Strong and Gary McKenzie. Carroll was represented by Allison Rasbury, Assistant Public Defender. Bustamonte's lawyer was Smithville attorney Jim Judkins.
Detective Jeremy Taylor, who was a deputy at the time of the offense, testified that the sheriff's department was called to come to the residence at the Loop Circle on January 23. The officers were tipped off that someone in the home may be making meth. When officers arrived, Detective Taylor said that the man who was renting the home gave consent for the officers to enter the residence. Once inside the officers made their way toward a bedroom. After knocking twice, Detective Taylor said Carroll opened the bedroom door. Inside he could see Carroll and two other men, Bustamonte and Wesley J. Hayes near a bathroom. All three men were wearing gloves. Carroll's wife and 16 year old sister-in-law were in another part of the house and apparently not involved in the meth lab operation. Detective Taylor testified that he could see two propane burners in the bathroom sink that were still burning and on them were pyrex dishes. The bathroom, he said, also had a chemical smell consistent with that of a meth lab. When Carroll saw the officers, he placed his hands behind his head and said "It's all mine", according to Detective Taylor.
The men were then instructed to turn off the burners. In addition to the cookers and pyrex dishes, officers found other components used to make meth including a jar containing a tri layered liquid, a 20 ounce Sundrop bottle with a hole cut in the cap on the top which had a tube protruding from it, backpacks containing bottles with liquid, cooking heads, a zip lock bag of ammonium nitrate, propane cylinders, and baggies. Detective Taylor said it appeared the meth lab was in the "panning" or final stages of operation in which the liquids are converted to solids as finished product. A Hazmat company was later called to cleanup and dispose of the hazardous materials at the scene. Although no ephedrine was found, an essential ingredient in the manufacture of meth, Detective Taylor claimed it had already been added to the cook by the time officers arrived.
However attorneys for the defendants, Rasbury and Judkins claimed that without evidence of ephedrine, their clients could not be convicted of these crimes. During closing arguments, Rasbury said there was no testimony of any ephedrine pills or liquids having been found, nor any empty ephedrine boxes, nor was there any finished product of meth. Both she and Judkins also questioned why no testing was done on the liquids and components found at the scene to determine if they contained ephedrine.
Rasbury and Judkins argued that no evidence was presented to support the charge of reckless endangerment, putting the 16 year old in harms way. Rasbury questioned why only the one count of reckless endangerment, if officers were concerned about public safety since others were in the home at the time.
During his testimony, Deputy Caleb Meadows testified that as he arrived on the scene, he could smell a strong chemical odor which only became stronger when he entered the home. When asked by Rasbury if the chemical could have been an odor from a substance used by one of the women in the home who had been cleaning the floor, Officer Meadows said he did not see anyone cleaning the floor. Rasbury also asked why Officer Meadows did not make a written report.. Meadows said the policy of the sheriff's department is for the arresting officer to do the reporting. In any event, Officer Meadows said he felt comfortable in relying on his memory in recalling details of this case.
Sheriff Ray testified as an expert witness on meth labs and explained for the jury the different types of meth lab operations. As photos of the evidence collected at the scene were projected on a screen and shown to the jury Sheriff Ray explained how the components shown in those pictures are typically used in a meth lab operation.
In his closing arguments on behalf of Bustamonte, attorney Judkins explained to the jury that all of the items found by officers in this investigation could be bought almost anywhere and that these are products that many people use in their homes regularly for legitimate purposes. Judkins added that just because these components may be consistent with the manufacture of methamphetamine, doesn't mean they were used for that reason in this case. Judkins further stressed that there was no proof that any of these components belonged to Bustamonte, pointing out that Carroll had claimed responsibility for them as officers arrived when he said "it's all mine".
In his closing remarks, Assistant D.A. McKenzie told the jury that since the defendants were indicted for initiating the process to make meth instead of being charged with manufacturing the drug, it was not necessary to test the chemicals, because the act of initiating makes it illegal for them to engage in what they were found doing. In addition, he said there was a safety concern about toxic gases from the chemicals. McKenzie also questioned why Carroll would put his hands behind his head and admit to these items belonging to him, unless he knew he had been caught doing something illegal.
Sheriff Ray told WJLE after that trial that he was very pleased with the outcome of this case. "I am very proud of my department and the work that they do. Cases like this are the example we want to set that we are very serious about the illegal manufacture and sale of drugs in our county. I want to see more of these cases where an offender with multiple convictions of serious crimes get extensive jail time for their continued illegal acts," said Sheriff Ray.
Bustamonte, already serving time in another case, was returned to jail after the trial while Judge Patterson revoked Carroll's bond, pending the sentencing hearing. Carroll had been free on bonding before the trial.