SHERIDAN — A jury trial began Monday in 4th Judicial District Court for defendant Dallas Mitchell, who is facing charges of possession with intent to deliver marijuana and conspiracy to deliver marijuana.
Both charges are felonies, each carrying potential punishments of up to 10 years incarceration and up to $10,000 in fines.
Thus far, the defense is relying heavily on a lack of fingerprint evidence and indicators as to whom the marijuana belonged, while the state is bolstering their argument with a correlation between where the roller bags containing the marijuana and a piece of clothing Mitchell was wearing at the time of his arrest were purchased.
Potential jurors were asked if they had prior knowledge of the trial and if they held strong opinions about law enforcement, individuals involved in the trial or legalization of marijuana that would impede their ability to judge the case fairly. Five men and seven women were chosen to serve on the jury with one male alternate. Day one of the trial concluded just after 5 p.m. and resumed at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Kevin Legerski, Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Ryan Kerns, two special agents with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and Shelby Follett, forensic analyst with the Wyoming State Crime Lab, testified to the facts of the case Monday.
In Sheridan County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christina White’s opening statement, she outlined the state’s position and supporting evidence. White said 60-70 pounds of marijuana was found in a car being driven by the defendant at the time he and the co-defendant, Bret Feser, were pulled over while traveling from Oregon to South Dakota through Wyoming.
Money bands were found in the vehicle along with 68 sealed packages of suspected marijuana, some labeled with dispensary labels. White said phone calls between Feser and Mitchell would support the state’s case.
Legerski was the first to testify to the details of the traffic stop that resulted in the discovery of the marijuana inside the vehicle. Legerski said he conducted a traffic stop after observing the vehicle weaving between the fog line and traffic cones in a construction zone — driving behavior that continued after they had passed through the construction zone and back into two regular lanes on Interstate 90 Aug. 26, 2018.
Legerski said he smelled a strong odor of marijuana when he approached the vehicle. The driver, Mitchell, said he was tired and offered to switch drivers. Legerski conducted a field sobriety test to determine if Mitchell had been driving impaired by either fatigue, alcohol or a substance.
During the stop, Mitchell produced a marijuana grinder and small, user amount of marijuana, which Mitchell said they had purchased from a dispensary in Oregon. The results of the field sobriety test indicated Mitchell was safe to operate the vehicle, Legerski said. Possession of less than three ounces of marijuana would result in a citation, confiscation of the substance and an order to appear at a later date, Legerski said.
Mitchell and Feser were informed that Legerski would need to check the vehicle to make sure the user amount of marijuana was all they had in their possession, Legerski said. Feser’s relative owned the vehicle.
Legerski confirmed that Mitchell was cooperative and compliant during the stop. Kerns arrived as back up when Legerski made contact with the passenger, Feser, who indicated he was going to secure the two dogs in the backseat when he jumped the center console and sped away in the vehicle. A high-speed chase ensued and Feser’s vehicle was spiked by officers in Campbell County before Feser fled on foot. He was located near Spotted Horse.
A motion to suppress evidence pertaining to the traffic stop was denied by Judge John Fenn Sept. 24, who said the decision to execute the initial stop may have been questionable, but the remainder of the detention was justified based on Legerski’s observations and reliability from more than 25 years in law enforcement.
All roller bags containing zip-sealed bags of suspected marijuana had tags from Ross Dress for Less still on them, as did the sweatshirt Mitchell retrieved from the vehicle to wear during the field sobriety test, White said.
During Seth Schumaker’s cross examination, Legerski said he was positioned so he could observe Mitchell performing the test and Feser inside the vehicle, but could not see what Feser was doing during the five to 10 minutes it took to complete the test and for Kerns to arrive on the scene. No items were found in the trunk that indicated they belonged to Mitchell, along with the largest amount of marijuana, a DCI agent said.
Kerns testified that he had seen the vehicle rocking while Legerski re-approached the vehicle but could not see what the occupants, Feser and two dogs, were doing to cause it to rock.
A DCI special agent testified to the photographs, processing and documentation of the vehicle upon the search at the Wyoming Department of Transportation office in Gillette. Duffel bags and a trash bag containing suspected marijuana were located in the back seat behind the passenger seat and a black backpack containing money bags was located in the front passenger seat. A metal grinder with marijuana residue and buds were located in the center console, the agent said.
Follett testified that her analysis of the substances, obtained through 10 samples from the suspected marijuana, produced a conclusive positive for THC. Follett said there were no indications the substances had been tampered with during transportation from law enforcement to the evidence technician to the crime lab. Mitchell’s finger prints were not found on any of the bags of marijuana.
Twenty-one photos of the substances and their packaging were published to the jury. The jury was dismissed while the court discussed the details of a phone call from Aug. 31, 2018, between Feser from the Sheridan County Detention Center and Mitchell — phone calls from the jail are always recorded and often reviewed by DCI agents during the course of an investigation, the agent said.
Schumaker objected to the agent relaying the content of the phone call as a third party based on best evidence rules.
The jury was called back when White returned to court with a burned copy of the entire 25-minute phone call and played it for the court. During the phone call, Feser and Mitchell discussed lawyers and questioned the validity of the traffic stop.
As of 9:30 am Tuesday, the state called one DCI agent back to the stand for clarification on certain facts. The defense has yet to decide if Mitchell will testify today.
Fenn said the jury will likely go into deliberations this afternoon.