GRANTSVILLE STATE POLICE LOST METH EVIDENCE - John Richards Charges Will Likely Be Dropped

By Bob Weaver

Charges against John Manis Richards (left) related to the operation of a meth lab in south Grantsville will likely be dropped because the West Virginia State Police at Grantsville has lost the evidence.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in March, after Richards fired several court appointed lawyers.

Police say meth ingredients and paraphernalia were confiscated from the Richards south Grantsville property in August, 2005, after which he was charged with attempting to operate a drug lab, possession of a substance as a precursor to manufacture meth and exposure of a minor child to meth manufacturing.

Since then, the charges have been modified.

Sgt. C. J. Ellyson, local detachment commander, has advised Calhoun Prosecutor Matt Minney that his predecessor Sgt. Darrin Campbell "declined to place it (evidence) in our evidence storage."

State Police said in 2005 they "observed a quantity of pseudoephedrine, along with plastic tubing, three bottles of Heet, three bottles of iodine, acetone and Coleman camp fuel," at the residence, those items and others were taken into evidence after a search warrant was exercised.

Public Defender Robbie Catlett, who is now representing Richards, declined to comment about the case, but did say if a motion for dismissal was to be filed, it will be done in February.

Sgt. Ellyson advised prosecutor Minney "Evidence in the above mentioned case has been destroyed."

"The...evidence was received from the Grantsville Police Department without any custody receipt and the previous detachment commander (Sgt. Darrin Campbell) declined to place it (evidence) in our evidence storage."

Sgt. Ellyson said the items were placed in what appears to be an unsecured storage area in the Grantsville barracks.

The officer says upon his arrival at the detachment last September to replace Sgt. Campbell, who had sustained a back injury, he began cleaning the storage area "believing the items were mere garbage, (and) inadvertently disposed the items."

Sgt. Ellyson declined a Herald request to comment regarding the problem.

Sgt. Campbell, at the time of the raid, said a field test was positive for the presence of meth.

Sgt. Campbell, Sgt. Tom Yanero, Trooper First Class Jeff Hunt and former Grantsville Police Chief Ron Gordon participated in the bust.

The initial charges indicated Richards was facing 2-10 years in prison and a fine of $5,000-$25,000 over his attempt to operate a drug lab.

On the possession of a substance as a precursor to manufacture meth, Richards was facing penalties of 2-10 years in prison and a fine up to $25,000.

On exposing a child to meth manufacturing, he was facing penalties up to five years and a $10,000 fine.

Richards, after being charged in 2005, published a newsletter called "The Lone Meth Ranger," which has also been placed on the Internet.

Richards claimed he was working behind the scenes to eradicate meth from Calhoun and Gilmer Counties, producing "educational" video tapes demonstrating how meth is manufactured and its harmful effects.

His undercover operation involved taping alleged drug deals in Calhoun and Gilmer County reportedly showing drug transactions.

Richards has claimed he has single-handedly decreased meth operations, by providing material to meth makers that caused them to "flop batches."

"The Lone Meth Ranger" claimed success in reducing meth production in the region, in addition to frequent attacks against former Grantsville Police Chief Ron Gordon for alleged illegal activities, and implied misconduct by Calhoun prosecutor Matt Minney, among others.

Gordon, a participant in Richards' arrest, is currently on home confinement for alleged sexual abuse of women under his jurisdiction, but is yet to be indicted by a special prosecutor.

Richards claims his Lone Meth Ranger staff "received numerous tips of meth lab locations from anonymous sources."

He says his Ranger staff moved quickly to warn the producers before the authorities could catch up with them, giving them time to close their operations.

"In fear that this information was also being provided to the local State Police, we moved fast to warn the meth labs that we were watching them and to move out of our area now," Richards wrote.

Richards says "Many have credited the Meth Ranger Newsletter for the low number of meth lab arrests in Calhoun County. The truth is, there has not been one single legitimate meth lab bust in Calhoun County. That's right, NONE."

Richards has a long list of arrests linked to alleged sexual offenses and larceny-related problems.

An earlier Calhoun meth case was dropped after Cpl. Doug Starcher of the Grantsville detachment testified under oath that State Police found the illegal substance at the Kelley Mace residence at Chloe.

After moving the case forward in circuit court, The State Police was unable to produce the illegal drug and charges were filed against Starcher, resulting in an internal investigation. The results of that investigation was never released.

A criminal investigation against the officer related to possible perjury was launched by a special prosecutor, the case is still languishing.

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