Possession charges stick in drug case

Jury finds Chris Brown guilty of possession of marijuana and meth, not guilty of distribution


When Ralph Cantafio took his turn to question prospective jurors for the trial in which his client would face serious drug charges, he made a point to ask them if they would have any trouble avoiding a "blanket" decision.

Would they be able to convict on some charges and acquit on others if the facts of the case so warranted?

None of the jurors opposed the notion and they followed through Friday, delivering mixed verdicts.

The Moffat County jury deliberated for two hours Friday before returning verdicts that convicted a Craig man of three felony drug charges and acquitted him of two others.

The jury found Christopher Brown, 49, guilty of possessing methamphetamine and possessing chemicals and supplies to manufacture the drug -- both are class-three felonies. Brown also was found guilty of cultivating marijuana, a class-four felony, along with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, a petty offense.

But Brown beat the allegations his lawyer, Ralph Cantafio, described as the "two huge charges."

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Waite had charged Brown with distribution of methamphetamine and marijuana, referring to the man as a "drug dealer."

The jury effectively acquitted Brown of that title, finding instead that he possessed the drug but did not sell it.

Waite denies implications of losing the two big ones.

"That's not true," he said, pointing out that possessing supplies to manufacture methamphetamine is a crime equally as serious as selling it. Waite also reiterated the fact that the jury convicted Brown of cultivating marijuana and possessing methamphetamine, which are serious felonies.

"That's a good verdict," Waite said, marching back to his office moments after the verdicts were read. "The jury obviously exercised good sense in rendering the appropriate verdicts. I'm very satisfied with that."

Waite presented 63 exhibits at the trial. He showed members of the jury bottles containing methamphetamine in various stages of manufacture. He held up heat-sealed bags containing marijuana plants and cured marijuana in mason jars. He showed them a water pipe draped with multi-colored beads, hand-blown glass pipes, scales, pro-marijuana magazines and giant light bulbs that were the sun for Brown's indoor marijuana garden. He even showed them a videotape of the Jan 23 raid on Brown's house by members of the Grand, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team (GRAMNET).

Cantafio called it an "avalanche of information."

In his opening statements, Cantafio said the prosecutor would overwhelm the jury with evidence. And he predicted the jury still would find his client not guilty of being a drug dealer.

That was the thrust of Cantafio's case. It weighed heavily on Brown's mind as he paced the lobby of the district courtroom while the jury deliberated Friday evening. During those moments, he seemed preoccupied with two emotions: regret and indignation.

"I should have testified. I should have testified," he repeated, gritting his teeth and pacing with his hands in his pockets. And he lamented his treatment at the hands of officers, saying they accused him of "selling drugs to children."

Cantafio said freeing his client of the distribution charges was crucial.

"We felt going in, on a legal and ethical level, the most important charges were the distribution charges," Cantafio said. "Clearly, Chris Brown is not a drug dealer and has never been a drug dealer. (Acquittal on those charges) was the most important outcome, both legally and for Mr. Brown. That alone made the case worth trying."

In Cantafio's closing arguments, he pointed out certain deficiencies in the investigation and said without those deficiencies the case would have been a "slam dunk" for Waite. Important evidence was missing.

GRAMNET brought surveillance on Brown's house but they recorded no activities consistent with drug dealing. When some 20 officers stormed Brown's house, they recovered a mountain of evidence, yet not a single fingerprint.

They discovered a digital scale they said was consistent with drug dealing, yet the scale was never dusted for drugs or fingerprints. They took a video camera with two low batteries. It caused them to stop and start the recording several times, which resulted in a choppy playback. Methamphetamine manufacturing is said to leave residue on walls, ceilings, drapes and other items of the premises, yet none of that evidence was collected.

Waite had to answer for each of these omissions when he presented the case. Even Cantafio commended the prosecutor's efforts to establish the presence of drugs in the Brown household.

"Household," is the key word.

"If I really believed Chris was selling this stuff out on the street, I wouldn't have represented him," Cantafio said.

He said he sees the case as an "interesting microcosm of the war on drugs."

"I'd like to know how much they spent on this," Cantafio said.

Brown will be sentenced Dec. 17. The class-three felonies alone carry possible penalties of up to 12 years in prison.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.