LACONIA — A jury Thursday found an Alton man guilty of being criminally reckless when he blew a powdered substance off his hands in the presence of a local police officer.
The jurors returned the guilty verdict in Belknap Superior Court on a charge of felony reckless conduct against Eric Weil, 50, of 6 Gilmans Corner Road.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for three hours before reaching the verdict at mid-afternoon, capping a 3½-day trial.
Weil was accused of blowing a powdered substance — later analyzed to be fentanyl — in the direction of Officer Jameson Fellows who, along with two other officers, had gone to Weil’s home to remove a house guest who had been found using drugs.
Weil had taken Jason Levesque, a man with a history of drug use, into his home as a favor to Levesque’s father. Weil told Levesque he could stay as long as he worked and stayed off drugs.
Once the jury foreman announced the verdict, and after asking both prosecution and defense attorneys, Judge James D. O’Neill III tentatively said Weil’s sentencing for the end of next week. Reckless conduct is a Class B felony which is potentially punishable by a 3½- to seven-year prison term.
On Thursday morning the jury heard the prosecution and defense attorneys delivered their closing arguments. Assistant Belknap County Attorney Adam Woods said ample evidence had been presented during the trial to prove Weil’s guilt. But defense attorney Harry Starbranch said his client was a Good Samaritan who did nothing to justify being put on trial.
Starbranch said the prosecution’s case relied heavily on the evidence given by Fellows, whose recollection he argued, was unreliable.
“Officer Fellows exaggerates,” the attorney told the jury in reference to Fellows’ testimony that the powdered substance Weil blew off his hands was “a cloud of death.”
He also said the officer’s testimony that Weil had blown a “handful” of the powder off his hands in Fellows’ direction was also an exaggeration.
Starbranch also noted the exact nature of the substance was unknown until toxicology tests later identified it as fentanyl.
He said since none of the officers on the scene used precautions, like donning protective gloves or masks, it was reasonable to assume police did not fear that they would be coming into contact with anything hazardous. Furthermore, Starbranch said, since a doctor at Huggins Hospital saw no need for Fellows to be examined in the emergency room, that further showed the officer was not exposed to anything likely to cause death or serious injury.
But Woods said Weil had recklessly and needlessly endangered Fellows.
“Not only should this charge be brought, it must be brought,” the prosecutor emphasized to the jury.
He said Weil’s actions were an outgrowth of his agitated behavior at the scene, making the officers’ jobs more difficult.
“He can’t help himself. He keeps inserting himself into the situation,” said Woods.
He said Fellows reaction to the seeing the powdered dust being blown into the air was understandable. “He’s breathing in this powder which all his training taught him to avoid.”
He said what Weil did put Fellows in danger of death or serious injury, given that fentanyl is deadly, and further that Weil knew the danger that drugs pose.
“He put Officer Fellows at more risk than he should ever have to face,” Woods said.