By Justin D. Anderson
Daily Mail Staff

Police mistook evidence for garbage, and the self-proclaimed "Lone Meth Ranger" rode off into the sunset.

Calhoun County prosecutors dismissed felony charges against John Manis Richards on Monday after a judge said they couldn't even mention the evidence during his upcoming trial for allegedly operating a methamphetamine lab at his Grantsville home.

Richards was arrested two years ago after authorities said they found materials commonly used to manufacture meth on his property.

News reports cited search documents detailing how police found pseudoephedrine, plastic tubing, bottles of iodine, acetone and camp fuel.

Police said a child was also in a car where some of the items were found.

Richards was indicted in 2006.

State Police Sgt. C.J. Ellyson was running the Grantsville detachment that year after the regular commander fell off a ladder.

Ellyson later admitted in a letter to Calhoun Prosecutor Matt Minney that he mistakenly discarded the evidence collected in Richards' case.

"The aforementioned evidence was received from Grantsville Police Department without any custody receipt and the previous detachment commander declined to place it in our evidence storage," Ellyson wrote. "The items were then set in the detachment common storage area by same."

When Ellyson came on board in Grantsville, he said he cleaned out the storage area, thought the evidence was garbage and got rid of it.

"That's the story anyway," said Robert Catlett, the public defender who represented Richards.

Col. David Lemmon, State Police superintendent, said today that an investigation is underway.

"I'm trying to find out exactly what did transpire," Lemmon said. He said from what he knows, Sgt. Ellyson seems to have made an honest mistake.

Minney, the county prosecutor, did not know exactly what was thrown away. But he said Tuesday that the evidence was enough to bring a case against Richards.

Sometimes after his arrest, Richards started an online newsletter describing himself as the "Lone Meth Ranger." In the newsletter, he railed against local authorities as being corrupt and he harped about the dangers of meth. He sent video footage of people making meth to various media outlets.

Richards called his own case "malicious prosecution" perpetrated by "rogue officials."

"He's made all kinds of allegations," Minney said.

Throughout his case, Richards claimed that he was really out to sabotage other meth makers for the good of the community.

He gave bad meth-making materials to people so they wouldn't be able to produce it, he said. That's what he claimed the seized materials were. A judge in December granted Richards' request to view the evidence police had. The letter from Ellyson saying the evidence had been tossed was dated less than a month later.

Catlett, in his motion to dismiss Richards' case, called the situation "staggering negligence." He said the evidence was never tested for traces of meth and was not destroyed as a health hazard, as is most meth lab evidence.

"I've never heard it happen accidentally," Catlett said. "They generally take samples of these items, then destroy the original. In this case, they just flat threw it away."

The motion goes on to suggest that the evidence was discarded intentionally.

"While there is no direct evidence that the destruction of this evidence was willful, there is circumstantial evidence," Catlett wrote.

"A defendant who is clearly disliked by local law enforcement cries out from day one for an analysis of the physical evidence, and then that evidence disappears. This draws a much darker picture than mere negligence."

An e-mail sent to Richards' Web site by the Daily Mail was not returned.

Contact writer Justin D. Anderson at 348-4843.