ALTON — The legal cloud that has hung over the head of a local resident accused of endangering the life of a local police officer by blowing powered fentanyl in the officer's direction is now gone.
With just a short notation in a court file, the Belknap County Attorney’s office dropped the charge of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon against Eric Weil.
Weil, 50, of 6 Gilmans Corner Road, was found guilty last September. He was accused of blowing a white powdery substance — later analyzed as fentanyl — in the direction of Alton police officer Jamison Fellows who, with two other officers, had gone to Weil’s home to remove a house guest who was using drugs. The prosecution argued that purposely exposing someone to the dust makes fentanyl, in essence, a deadly weapon. The charge carried a potential prison sentence of 2½ to five years.
But in November, Superior Court Judge James D. O’Neill III threw out the verdict, ruling that the evidence presented at the trial was insufficient to support the guilty verdict. However, O’Neill’s ruling permitted prosecutors to retry the case. Assistant Belknap County Attorney Adam Woods then asked for a two-month continuance to review the evidence and find an expert witness who could testify about the lethalness of incidental exposure to fentanyl.
“After careful consideration and given the legal standard that was adopted by the court in setting aside the original verdict, it was felt that we could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt with the evidence we had,” Woods said in commenting on the decision to drop the charge.
He declined to say whether he had been able to find an expert witness to testify on the hazards of fentanyl exposure.
Weil’s attorney, Harry Starbranch, said he was pleased with the outcome.
“I admire Eric Weil, and I applaud his motive,” he said. “He was trying to do the right thing” by calling the police to come and remove this man who had been using drugs at Weil’s house.
Starbranch said the main issue in the trial was whether incidental exposure to fentanyl is potentially fatal. At an October court hearing he said it was a “myth” that casual exposure to fentanyl could be deadly.
He said Wednesday that that view is a disservice to first responders who may become reluctant to tend to a victim if they hear that fentanyl is present. “It would be better if they are relying on good science,” he said.
Starbranch said he was informed of the prosecution’s decision to drop the charges in a one-sentence email he received Monday afternoon.
Weil’s girlfriend, Belinda Mclin, said she and Weil were relieved that the charges had been dropped.
“The last one-and-a-half years have been very trying on our relationship and our finances,” she said.
She said Weil’s painting business and her hair salon had suffered because of the case.
Mclin said the charges against Weil were absurd.
“If that (drug) was such a deadly weapon, why didn’t they check out everyone who was there,” she asked. “The only one who got checked out was the officer. You can’t just pull deadly weapons out of the sky,” she added.