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July 31, 2012

Meth lab hearing date reset

PERRY TOWNSHIP — A district judge irked by prosecutors’ desire to delay a preliminary hearing for five people accused of operating a methamphetamine lab in Perry Township agreed to postpone the proceedings by two weeks, but no more.

“I am extremely disappointed that the commonwealth is not prepared to go,” District Judge Lorinda Hinch, Mercer, said Monday.

The defense attorneys involved weren’t happy either and objected to the request for a continuance.

William G. McConnell Jr., who represents Callie T. Bothun, attacked the strength of the state’s case and the court paperwork filed to back it up.

“The affidavit of probable cause is probably the least substantive affidavit of probable cause I’ve ever seen any matter I’ve handled in these courts,” McConnell said.

McConnell said it seemed the Attorney General’s office spent more time putting together the press release about the arrests than “getting ready for a hearing.”

Hinch continued the hearing for Bothun, Aaron W. Allmon, Sarah A. Hetrick, Jesse A. Sullivan and Donald Sturgin and lowered the bond for each from $500,000 to $100,000.

Hinch told Assistant District Attorney Brian Farone and Barbara Garrett of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office that she expects them to have their witnesses and evidence lined up for Aug. 13 or she’ll dismiss all the charges in the case.

She urged all the attorneys involved to be punctual and set to begin testimony, not just walking in or talking to their clients.

“I want to start at 1 o’clock,” Hinch said.

At 7:10 a.m. July 20 Mercer County Drug Task Force agents searched 237 Carey Road and found what they called four active methamphetamine labs.

Meth labs are notorious because of the hazardous chemicals used in making the drug and have been known to explode. The chemicals can also contaminate water, soil and air.

Narcotics agents were tipped off by an informant that there was a meth lab operating in the Clarks Mills area and an anonymous tip to the Mercer County district attorney’s drug hotline said Hetrick was selling drugs at two locations.

Officials obtained records from seven northern Mercer County pharmacies and found three of the defendants and two others had bought ephedrine from April through June.

The inventory of the search warrant shows officials found a number of plastic bottles, some with crystal substances or clear bluish liquids inside, in the bedrooms and in a camper on the property.

Other items discovered include: Lighter fluid, acetone, muriatic acid, lye, digital scales, funnels, fuel cans, coffee filters, coffee grinders, lithium batteries, pliers, a hot plate, an air pump and two marijuana plants. Some of the items were destroyed when found, the warrant says.

 District Attorney Robert G. Kochems said his office approved the search warrant and “The arrest came immediately as part of the bust.”

Kochems said methamphetamine use is on the rise in the county but “it’s still on the fringes.”

Because of the danger associated with “cooking” it, places where labs are found are considered hazardous.

Bothun’s father Gary Bothun said agents forced everyone from the home that morning, had them strip down and sprayed them with a firehouse because they claimed they were contaminated. He said they weren’t given anything to dry off with and told to put on plastic suits.

“You can’t do that to Iraqi war criminals. This is Pennsylvania,” Mr. Bothun said. “I think that’s very degrading.”

Bothun said officials are calling each of four bottles found in the home a separate lab.

“I think they’ve been watching too much TV,” he said.

Charged are: Sturgin; Allmon, 34, of Orwell, Ohio, and Greenville; Bothun, 35, of 10 S. Second St., Greenville; Hetrick, 30, of 59 Thompson Road, Perry Township; and Sullivan, 32, of 1911 Bachop Road, Sheakleyville.

The five were each charged with operating a meth lab; manufacture of meth and pot with intent to deliver; manufacture of meth when a child was present; possession of meth, two pot plants and drug paraphernalia; conspiracy to manufacture and possess meth; risking a catastrophe; reckless endangerment; and endangering the welfare of a child.

 Hetrick’s 2-year-old son was at the home while meth was being made, officials said. It’s unclear where the child is now and Hetrick’s attorney John Alfredo and Kochems said they did not know who had custody of him.

Hinch said some of the charges appeared to be duplicated on the criminal complaints against the defendants, which Garrett admitted were copied and pasted with the names changed, and implied prosecutors could amend the charges at the hearing.

Allmon and Bothun also were each charged with prohibited possession of a firearm, something Allmon’s lawyer Stephen Delpero questioned, saying he didn’t have a prior record that would make that charge applicable.

When pressed by Hinch, Garrett said she didn’t know if the gun charge was a mistake or if it was warranted.

Sullivan’s attorney Dustin Cole said prosecutors were “completely unprepared” and lacked a “coherent response” to the judge’s questions.

Kochems said his office asked for a continuance last week due to scheduling issues but the judge denied it.

When asked about Hinch’s characterization of his office as unprepared, Kochems said “DJ Hinch has her opinions. That’s all I can say because I wasn’t present and I don’t know.”

Sturgin, 35, of 237 Carey Road, had his hearing continued prior to Monday’s appearance in court because of a scheduling issue with his lawyer Lowell T. Williams. He was also charged with aggravated assault for his actions against members of the entry team when the search was executed.


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