Meth defendant enters plea in conspiracy case; trial stopped due to discovery oversight
Kay Peterson's mug shot doesn't do her justice.
The 38-year-old Park Rapids woman looks like someone you'd see standing on the sidelines of a kids' soccer game, or working at the church bake sale.
Instead, Peterson went on trial Tuesday, charged with being a meth dealer. It is alleged that she and others participated in a major conspiracy to furnish methamphetamine to the region.
Her trial ended before it began and she likely will get a break due to a prosecutorial oversight.
A jury was seated, but pre-trial skirmishing over the disclosure of evidence that could have been favorable to Peterson began as soon as jurors left for lunch.
Defense attorneys successfully argued that a President's Day fax of transcripts from undercover drugs agents' body wires prejudiced Peterson's right to a fair trial on the eve of trial. They should have had the information much sooner, they argued before District Judge John Smith.
"I've been sandbagged heavily here, your honor," said defense attorney Rich Kenly of Backus. "I didn't know these tapes existed until last week and here we are with a sworn jury."
Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne, objecting to the term "sandbagging," explained he had his staff transcribe the tapes as they became available and faxed the transcripts to defense counsel.
But Smith was having none of it.
When Peterson's attorneys requested a continuance, Smith asked, "What route would you pursue?"
Defense attorneys complained they had not been able to interview Peterson's mule, Daniel Moorhouse, who was also charged in the drug conspiracy along with his brother, Nathan Moorhouse.
Dearstyne told the judge that Daniel Moorhouse, who has entered a plea to Second Degree drug possession, has been in jail for the past two months and was available for the defense to interview.
A phone call from the bench to Moorhouse's attorney was made. But she didn't guarantee her client would talk, and he refused.
Although Moorhouse's plea bargain was conditioned on his cooperation in the prosecution, he was not obligated to help Peterson.
"I don't think I can order him to talk," Smith said.
"I think you can," Dearstyne replied. "He's already entered a plea" and would not be able to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Instead, Smith summoned the parties to his chambers. The attorneys, citing the ongoing case, have declined to discuss what went on in chambers.
Meanwhile jurors had returned from their lunch break and were sitting in the jury room, no doubt wondering when their services would be needed.
The attorneys returned to the courtroom, where Peterson was given the opportunity to enter a plea bargain herself.
She pled guilty to First Degree drug possession, a felony, and a Fifth Degree Controlled Substance Crime was dismissed. When Peterson was arrested Oct. 14, 2009, and booked into the jail, she was found with meth in her purse. That was the basis of the charge that was dismissed.
Smith ordered a pre-sentence investigation. Peterson will receive local jail time of an undetermined amount. That will depend on what the pre-sentence investigation reveals.
The charge carries a maximum of 30 years in jail and/or a $1 million fine. Smith told Peterson she must make restitution for the drug buys. Although five purchases are listed in her complaint, she testified she was only aware of three of them.
She said Daniel Moorhouse sometimes purchased methamphetamine from her, then added to the quantity by cutting the meth's potency with inert substances. He resold it without her knowledge.
"I don't know how much he stomped on," Peterson testified Tuesday.
"We have had a significant amount of drugs moving through the area," Dearstyne said in an interview last week.
Peterson did not shed light on the reason she became involved in the conspiracy. Smith said she must undergo a chemical dependency evaluation and treatment if warranted as part of her sentence.
The criminal complaint indicated she might have continued to sell meth because she owed her supplier and needed a way to pay that person off. Brief discussion in the courtroom indicated drug agents tried to recruit her as a confidential informant, then had her charged when she resisted or failed to comply.
Nathan Moorhouse is scheduled for trial Feb. 24; Daniel Moorhouse will be sentenced March 1.
Dearstyne said more cases could be prosecuted as the conspiracy participants are individually charged.
Smith called the jury back to the courtroom and explained the situation to them.
"Normally I would not allow this to happen in a case at this stage of the proceedings," he told them. "It's a waste of your time."
But he said the plea agreement "wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been there. I do not take your service lightly. It is very much appreciated."
Turning to the attorneys, Smith said, "The disclosure prompted this. Next time the sanctions will be swifter and more severe."
Peterson is set for sentencing March 23.