Meth trial ends in three guilty verdicts

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A deputy sheriff's investigation of men driving from a field last January led to charges of spotlighting deer, drug and weapons offenses that resulted in convictions with guilty verdicts Thursday.

Now, awaiting a Jan. 20 sentencing hearing in the Marshall County Jail is Ellis Randall Darnell Jr., 34, formerly of 1566 Springplace Road, one of three men apprehended by Deputy Tony Nichols. Darnell's term could be 11-16 years.

Darnell and other defendants, whose cases were severed from each other in May, were stopped by Nichols on Jan. 21. They had been at a residence in Verona where methamphetamine was cooked, information in Darnell's court file indicates. After the methamphetamine was cooked, Darnell and others went to hunt deer by spotlighting them from a vehicle.

The record shows they drove to Fishing Ford, Holly Grove and Farmington-Belfast roads, and highways in between. After they were stopped, a deer was found in the vehicle which was searched more carefully. That revealed illegal drugs and intensified the investigation.

Deputy Matt Owens swore out warrants against Darnell with witnesses including Nichols and Deputy Layne Worsham. Tim Lane, director of the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force also investigated.

Former task force agent Billy Ostermann, now the school resource officer at Marshall County High School, testified during Darnell's trial on Thursday.

Ostermann explained to the jury there are three common ways to make methamphetamine which has the over-the-counter decongestant pseudoephedrine as a main ingredient.

A copy of a Dec. 17, 2008, purchase receipt for $2.84 of pseudoephedrine from a South Ellington Parkway grocery's pharmacy is part of the case file against Darnell. People who buy pseudoephedrine in Tennessee must sign a register for the product and their driver's license is used as an identification card.

Three ways to cook methamphetamine, as explained by Ostermann, include: the so-called shake and bake method; anhydrous ammonia method; and the red dye method, also known as the Nazi method since Germans tried to boost soldiers' courage with it. Testimony on Thursday showed Darnell and others were using the shake and bake method to make methamphetamine.

Possession of a firearm while committing a dangerous felony was among the charges that led to three guilty verdicts against Darnell. Because of the verdict on the weapons charge, some of the charges lodged against Darnell must lead to sentences that are to be served consecutively, thereby lengthening his incarceration time for convictions on manufacturing and being in possession of the illegal drug, methamphetamine.

Darnell's attorney is Melissa Thomas of Fayetteville. Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard prosecuted Darnell.

Judge Robert Crigler presided and finished his instructions to the jury by about 9 p.m. Thursday. The verdict was delivered at about 11 p.m.