This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Richard Andrew Christy,
Filed January 3, 2006
Wilkin County District Court
File No. K6-04-59
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Thomas R. Ragatz, Kristen M.
Olsen, Assistants Attorney General, 1800
Mark A. Meyer,
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
Appellant challenges his two convictions of first-degree controlled substance crimes, i.e., methamphetamine manufacture and attempted methamphetamine manufacture, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions. Because the evidence is sufficient to support the convictions, we affirm.
On December 15, 2003, appellant Richard Andrew Christy’s live-in girlfriend, Lisa Klinger, called appellant’s probation officer, Melanie Cole, to report appellant’s methamphetamine use and suspected “cooking,” i.e., manufacturing, of methamphetamine. Klinger reported to Cole that the garage smelled strongly of ammonia and that items relating to methamphetamine manufacturing had been thrown out in the garbage earlier that day. Initially, appellant denied that he had used methamphetamine, but later admitted to ingesting methamphetamine that he claimed was left over from his participation in manufacturing methamphetamine in 2001. Cole performed a drug test on appellant which was positive for methamphetamine.
Cole and Sheriff Rick Fiedler conducted a probation search of appellant’s residence on December 16, 2003. During this search, Fiedler detected a strong odor of ammonia; and identified the presence of various “precursors,” i.e., items used in methamphetamine manufacturing, in appellant’s garage. Fiedler did not seize any of the items, but his observations formed the basis for a subsequent warrant to search appellant’s residence.
Pursuant to the first search warrant, Fiedler and other deputy officers searched appellant’s residence on December 23, 2003. During this search, the officers found two one-quart containers of toluene, a quart of partially used brush cleaner, a quart of partially used adhesive remover, muriatic acid, lithium batteries, a piece of pipe labeled anhydrous ammonia application tube, other tubing, copper pipe, a bag of rock salt, and a cooler that tested positive for ammonia. The officers seized the items and submitted the evidence for testing. None of the items tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine.
On December 28, 2003, Klinger again called Cole to report that appellant was using and “cooking” methamphetamine, that the garage smelled strongly of ammonia; and requested that appellant be tested for methamphetamine. When a deputy arrived at appellant’s residence and was eventually let into the house by Klinger, he found appellant in the kitchen looking “very scared, very sweaty, and very nervous.” When questioned regarding his earlier refusal to answer the door, appellant stated, “would you answer the door if you were doing something wrong that you weren’t supposed to be doing?” Subsequently, the deputy obtained a urine sample from appellant, which tested positive for methamphetamine.
The next day, December 29, 2003, Klinger again called Cole to report that appellant was manufacturing methamphetamine. Klinger reported that she detected an odor emanating from the garage, and that she had seen other evidence of methamphetamine manufacturing and use, including receipts from the purchase of ephedrine and jars at a Fleet Farm store, new batteries, and a “worm blower” to inject methamphetamine. Klinger indicated that a search of the residence would also reveal a number of items used to “cook” methamphetamine, and a Carmex container of methamphetamine in a slipper located in the bedroom closet. Klinger mentioned that appellant may have gone to the river to complete the actual cooking process because some items needed to “cook” methamphetamine were not in the home. Subsequently, a second search warrant was obtained.
Deputy Fiedler and other officers again searched appellant’s residence, and found a Carmex container containing a substance hidden in a slipper in appellant’s bedroom. Fiedler identified the substance as “meth oil,” and field tests revealed that it tested positive for methamphetamine. Officers seized a screwdriver partially covered with a white residue from appellant’s bathroom that also field tested positive for methamphetamine. In the garbage, officers discovered a milk jug containing 30-40 coffee filters covered in a white residue. A glass jar emitting a strong ether smell was also seized from under appellant’s kitchen sink. In appellant’s garage, officers found a wooden spoon containing a trace of white residue, a container of oil filled with approximately 100 coffee filters, a mason jar containing an unknown solvent hidden under a tarp, a homemade envelope constructed from a December 2003 court document containing a white powder, muriatic acid, and a roll of tin foil.
In lab testing at the BCA, the white substance in the homemade envelope tested out as ephedrine, and the substances in the Carmex container, which had separated into crystal and liquid forms, tested positive for methamphetamine. Based on the results of the search, appellant was charged with three counts of controlled substance crimes: first-degree controlled substance crime (methamphetamine manufacture); first-degree controlled substance crime (attempted methamphetamine manufacture); and fifth-degree controlled substance crime (possession of methamphetamine).
Six witnesses testified at trial, including appellant. Based on his professional experience investigating drug operations, his training with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and his certification as a member of the Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement Team, Fiedler testified as an expert on the manufacturing of methamphetamine. Fiedler testified that methamphetamine was manufactured in appellant’s garage using the three-step Birch reduction method of methamphetamine manufacturing. In the first step, ephedrine is extracted from cold tablets using a solvent such as toluene and coffee filters. The second step converts the ephedrine powder to a “meth base” using lithium, anhydrous ammonia, and distilled water. The combination of these ingredients causes a chemical reaction, which creates the methamphetamine base, and a strong ammonia smell as a by-product. The third step transforms the methamphetamine base into a consumable form by adding a solvent such as toluene, paint thinner, ether, or acetone, and using a “gas generator” to crystallize the methamphetamine. A “gas generator” is created in part by combining muriatic acid and tin foil in a closed container with a hose attached.
Appellant testified that the items seized in the searches of his residence, including the small amount of methamphetamine found in the Carmex container, were remnants from his prior involvement in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, of which he was convicted in 2001. Appellant admitted that the methamphetamine in the Carmex container “wasn’t in the usable form,” requiring him to alter it by adding water to the substance before he was able to ingest it. Appellant admitted that he also had possessed three “baggies” of methamphetamine in addition to the small amount found in the Carmex container.
Special Agent Dan Bauman from the BCA testified that he was involved in the 2001 investigation of appellant’s manufacturing of methamphetamine. Bauman testified that all the items relating to methamphetamine manufacturing were seized during the 2001 search of appellant’s prior residence; and that appellant never mentioned any leftover ingredients, equipment, or methamphetamine. Fiedler testified that the items seized during the first search had been replaced with new items seized on the second search, and that the ephedrine was found in an envelope made from a court document dated December 2003. Cole testified that Klinger told her that she saw receipts of appellant’s purchase of various items used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Appellant testified that the items seized were used for legitimate purposes. For example, appellant stated that the solvents were used as decal removers and created the ammonia odor; and that the muriatic acid was used to clean concrete and vehicles. Fiedler testified that, although muriatic acid can be used for cleaning concrete, there was no indication anywhere on appellant’s property that any concrete work had been done. Fiedler also testified that he was not aware of any other legitimate uses of muriatic acid. Although appellant stated that he did not know why coffee filters had been placed in the oil can, Fiedler testified that the filters were placed in oil to destroy the methamphetamine residue.
At trial, the state called Klinger to testify. She admitted to having phone conversations with Cole in which she stated that appellant was using methamphetamine, but denied ever stating that appellant was “cooking” or manufacturing methamphetamine. Cole’s testimony, which was supported by her handwritten notes of the phone conversations, directly contradicted Klinger’s testimony.
Following trial, the district court found appellant guilty of first-degree controlled substance crime (methamphetamine manufacture) in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 2a(a) (2002); first-degree controlled substance crime (attempted methamphetamine manufacture) in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.021, subd. 2a(b) (Supp. 2003); and fifth-degree controlled substance crime (possession of methamphetamine) in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subds. 2(1) (2002). Because the counts for methamphetamine manufacturing, and attempted methamphetamine manufacturing arose from the same behavioral incident, the district court declined adjudication of the conviction for attempted methamphetamine manufacturing. Appellant was sentenced to 146 months in prison based on the first-degree controlled substance crime for methamphetamine manufacture. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant raises two arguments on appeal. First, appellant contends that the circumstantial evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support a conviction of methamphetamine manufacture. Appellant argues that the absence of direct evidence linking the precursors and other items found at appellant’s residence to production of the small amount of methamphetamine possessed by appellant indicates that the state did not meet its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant manufactured methamphetamine. Respondent argues that the evidence is consistent with appellant manufacturing methamphetamine and inconsistent with appellant’s theory that the seized precursors and methamphetamine were left over from 2001.
In considering a
claim of insufficient evidence, this court’s review is limited to a painstaking
analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the
light most favorable to the conviction, is sufficient to allow the fact-finder
to reach the verdict that it did. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (
Here, the circumstantial evidence is sufficient to establish a “complete chain” leading to the conclusion that appellant manufactured the methamphetamine found in his possession. Bias, 419 N.W.2d at 484. First, the evidence establishes that appellant was in possession of “precursors” to methamphetamine manufacturing on December 16, 23, and 29. The precursors seized during the searches were required for the Birch reduction method of methamphetamine manufacturing. Specifically, the officers seized coffee filters, toluene and ephedrine from appellant’s residence, which are used in the first step of the manufacturing process. The residue-covered coffee filters were placed in an oil can, which Fiedler testified served the purpose of destroying evidence of methamphetamine residue. Lithium and anhydrous ammonia are key ingredients in the second step, and lithium batteries, an anhydrous ammonia application tube, and a cooler with traces of ammonia was seized from appellant’s garage. Fiedler detected the strong smell of ammonia during the December 16 search, which is a by-product of the chemical reaction that occurs in the second step of the manufacturing process. The searches also uncovered muriatic acid, tin foil, and tubing which are used to create a “gas generator” in the third stage of the process.
Appellant’s theory that these precursors were either left over from his prior conviction for manufacturing methamphetamine or used for legitimate household purposes is inconsistent with the evidence. Bauman testified that the investigators seized the items relating to methamphetamine manufacturing during the search of appellant’s residence in 2001. Fiedler testified that the precursors and items seized from appellant’s residence on December 23 had been replaced with new items when appellant’s home was again searched on December 29. The district court found Klinger’s testimony lacked credibility. Fiedler also testified that the homemade envelope containing crushed ephedrine seized from appellant’s residence in the December 23 search was made from a court document dated December 2003. Fiedler’s testimony also refuted appellant’s testimony regarding legitimate uses of the seized items.
argues that because Klinger denied stating that appellant was cooking or
manufacturing methamphetamine that the evidence was insufficient to support the
convictions. We disagree. The district court found that Cole’s
testimony was credible, and that Klinger’s was not. On credibility determinations, we defer to
the district court. See In re Ramey, 648 N.W.2d 260, 269 (Minn. App. 2002), review denied (
Second, the circumstantial evidence establishes appellant’s use and possession of methamphetamine during the same time period that precursors were found at appellant’s residence. Appellant tested positive for methamphetamine on December 16 and 28. Appellant also conceded to possession of the “meth oil” found in the Carmex container on December 29. On cross-examination, appellant also admitted that he possessed three baggies of methamphetamine in addition to the methamphetamine in the Carmex container. Appellant offered no other explanation for the origin of the methamphetamine.
Finally, appellant admitted to altering the “meth oil” from an unusable form to a usable form by adding water. Appellant’s act of adding water created a final product suitable for ingestion, and, therefore, served as the last step in the manufacturing process. Consequently, the totality of the circumstantial evidence, i.e., appellant’s possession of precursors relating to all three steps of the Birch reduction method of manufacturing, use and possession of methamphetamine, and admission of adding water to create ingestible methamphetamine, is sufficient to establish that appellant manufactured the methamphetamine found in his possession.
Next, appellant argues that the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction of attempted manufacture of methamphetamine. Because the evidence is sufficient to affirm the conviction of first-degree methamphetamine manufacturing, we need not address this issue.