October 22, 2021

Meth case conviction dismissed on appeal

A 2016 case involving a Cortland man convicted of making methamphetamine has been dismissed on appeal due to a lack of evidence.

Christopher C. Gillette, 36, homeless, was charged with third-degree unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine, a felony; fifth-degree conspiracy and second-degree reckless endangerment; misdemeanors, according to state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division documents.

He was also indicted on second-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a felony, and the other charges, based upon the allegations that he was involved with making methamphetamine.

In the ruling overturning the conviction and indictment, Justice Christine Clark of the Appellate Division’s Third Judicial Department said that while police found Gillette near ingredients and devices used to make meth, prosecutors never proved that Gillette was actually in possession of them.

The possession charge was filed because police said Gillette bought pseudoephedrine, a precursor in the making of methamphetamine, five times before his arrest Dec. 9, 2016, according to Cortland County Court documents. He was prevented from
a sixth purchase in less than 30 days because of federal laws.

His case was dismissed Dec. 26. Gillette’s attorney, David Butler of Butler & Butler, could not be reached for comment.

Gillette was found not guilty following a 2017 jury trial on the charge of second-degree possession, but was convicted of manufacturing meth, conspiracy and reckless endangerment. He was sentenced to four years in prison and two years of post release supervision, according to the Supreme Court documents.

Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti said the case cannot be tried again. He declined comment on the ruling.

To win a conviction, the ruling states, prosecutors had to prove Gillette possessed at least two pieces of lab equipment and two or more precursors to meth, and intended to use them to make meth.

Yet, while Gillette was in close proximity to these items, and had purchased pseudoephedrine multiple times before Dec. 9, he was not in physical possession of any the items police seized.

The “defendant’s presence in the same location as contraband or knowledge of the contraband’s existence in that location, standing alone, is insufficient to establish constructive possession,” the ruling said.

On Dec. 9, 2016, Cortland police arrived at an apartment at 40 Groton Ave. in response to a call regarding suspicious activities, with windows open and fans being used “despite the frigid temperature,” the ruling said. Police said they smelled a strong odor similar to methamphetamine.

A resident, covered in soot, told police someone had brought a meth one-pot to the apartment, but occupants made the person leave; police called the Cortland Fire Department. Gillette was one of the occupants, though it was determined later that he was a guest, the Supreme Court papers said.

The Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team found laboratory equipment and chemical reagents and solvents used in making methamphetamine. Two ounces of liquid containing methamphetamine were also found.

They also found batteries and sea salt in Gillette’s backpack, both used in making meth, police said.

However, the ruling stated that it’s reasonable to conclude Gillette controlled the salt and batteries, but not the other equipment used to make methamphetamine.

The occupants testified that Gillette knew methamphetamine was being made, but he did not participate in making it, the Supreme Court documents said. Additionally, officers observed that Gillette did not have any black soot on his hands or clothes, “which is indicative of methamphetamine production.”

The appeal was filed in January 2018.