The case of an Elkins man accused of growing marijuana and making methamphetamine after police discovered a large marijuana plant near his residence in early September was bound over Friday to Randolph County Circuit Court.
During a preliminary hearing, Magistrate Ben Shepler found probable cause on all three felony charges lodged against 41-year-old Velair Collins.
Collins was charged with operating a clandestine meth lab, possesion with intent to deliver and manufacturing marijuana - all felonies - after Cpl. C.D Cross with the Elkins Police Department discovered a large marijuana plant growing near Collins' residence on Sept. 4.
Shepler also denied a request to modify or reduce bond for Collins, who currently is being held in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail on a $75,000 cash-only bond.
Cross testified Friday that he obtained a search warrant for Collins' Diamond Street property Sept. 4 after spotting a 4- or 5-foot marijuana plant growing out of a 5-gallon bucket near Collins' driveway. Once on the property, Cross said he found two small marijuana plants on either side of the large plant. In an outbuilding adjacent to the trailer in which Collins lived, Cross found "a jar with a pinkish substance vented with a pipe" - in addition to a Coleman fuel canister, water softener, coffee filters, Mason jars and other items the officer believed to be precursors to the manufacture of meth.
Inside the trailer, Cross said he found a Marlin .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle between the mattress and the box springs in the master bedroom, as well as "numerous scales, shotgun shells and jars with coffee filters that all matched up with what is known as a shake-and-bake meth lab."
Cross told Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker that although he noticed no odor in the bedroom, he saw a hole in the floor of the closet, which he believed might have been used for venting a shake-and-bake meth lab.
"That'd be a good way to do it," Cross testified. "There's a meth lab, here's a sewer line."
Cross also said he saw a white substance in plastic bags in a vase on the kitchen table.
During cross-examination, Collins' attorney, James Hawkins, raised questions over whether the marijuana plants actually belonged to Collins.
"You didn't know how they got there, right?" Hawkins asked. "You didn't know how long they had been there, and you didn't know who had been nurturing them and growing them, correct?"
"Correct," Cross replied.
Cross testified that the plants were located about 20 to 25 feet away from the residence in a grassy area to the left of the driveway. Based on that testimony, Hawkins argued that Cross' case against Collins, relative to the manufacture of marijuana, was "based merely on the plants' proximity to (Collins') property."
Hawkins also attempted to cast doubt on the prosecution's argument that the bags filled with a white substance inside the trailer might belong to Collins, suggesting they also could belong to the owner of the trailer.
Parker and Cross clashed over whether Senior Trooper V.J. Pyles with the West Virginia State Police - the prosecution's second witness - could be considered an expert witness. Hawkins said a weeklong course in methamphetamine lab identification and remediation wasn't sufficient to qualify him as an expert who could offer opinions.
Parker replied, "it doesn't take a Ph.D. to be certified as an expert witness," and said Pyles had more knowledge about meth than "anyone sitting in this room." Shepler ultimately allowed Pyles to offer opinions. The state trooper said he found a shake-and-bake meth lab in the master bedroom, which was not active when he arrived; however, it reactivated when he moved it.
"It started to bubble and melted out the bottom," Pyles said.
The prosecution also attempted to call Collins' wife, Stephanie Collins, as a witness, but Hawkins successfully blocked that move by arguing that state code prohibited spouses from having to testify against one another unless one perpetrated an alleged crime against the other or both spouses consented.
In his closing statement, Parker urged Shepler to find probable cause on all three felony counts and deny Hawkins' request for bond reduction or modification.
"This was clearly a volatile situation in a highly populated area, and add to that firearms being located in that area," Parker said.
However, Hawkins dissented, saying the prosecution had "little, if any" evidence that the plants belonged to Collins, and the prosecution had insufficient evidence to find probable cause on the charge of possession with intent to distribute. He said too many questions still surround the plastic bags with white matter in them.
"We don't know for what purpose they were possessed, we don't know who possessed them and we don't know if they were packaged for individual use or delivery," Hawkins said.
Arguing for a change or reduction in bond, Hawkins told Shepler that Collins' cash-only bond was "an assault on the law" and Constitution.
Shepler found probable cause on all three felony counts and refused to modify bond, saying his decision stemmed from a concern for public safety, given what law enforcement allegedly found in Collins' trailer and outbuilding.