“Choose your friends wisely.”
That was one man’s defense against charges that he was in possession of stolen property and methamphetamine when police arrived to search his property in February of last year.
Christopher James Willing, 44, was ultimately found guilty of unlawful possession of a stun device, a category B felony, theft, a category C felony, and possession of a controlled substance, a category E felony, following a three-day jury trial in District Court on those charges last week.
The state claimed Willing, a convicted felon, was guilty of possessing approximately 3.8 grams of meth as well as a stun gun and stolen tire machine when police arrived with a search warrant on his property in the 3400 block of Bison Street on Feb. 4, 2013.
A Nye County Sheriff’s Office detective testified when officers arrived that afternoon to search Willing’s residence they discovered a stun gun sitting on a table in the master bedroom, which was illegal for Willing to possess as a convicted felon, as well as a clear plastic baggie with a white crystalline substance inside that appeared to be melted to or stuck to a glass pipe, which was stuffed inside a glove found in a trash can in the living room.
Outside, the officer testified detectives discovered a tire machine, which reportedly matched the description of one stolen from a property on Casey Street in 2012.
Home at the time of the search, he said, was Willing, Willing’s live-in girlfriend, Yvonne Smades, and another man who was living in a small trailer separate from the main residence on the property.
The owner of the tire machine, Martin Schiller, was subsequently called to the scene and testified at the trial he was able to identify the machine as his.
Although Willing’s attorney, Nathan Gent, questioned whether the man simply took it because his machine had been stolen after he had misremembered the brand name, Schiller stated the machine was his and he knew it for sure after looking at some old photographs he had found of the item before it was taken.
When it was time for Smades to take the stand to testify against Willing, her testimony about what happened the day the search warrant was served seemed to change.
According to Deputy District Attorney Patrick Ferguson, she had told his office the week before that she had given the stun device to Willing on Feb. 3, 2013.
When she took the stand, however, she said it was hers and she never gave it to her boyfriend.
The one thing the prosecution noted did not change was her testimony that the stolen tire machine had been on the property since she arrived in late 2012 and that she sometimes used meth with Willing in their home.
In closing, Ferguson told the jury it was Willing’s property and that he was the one who had brought the tire machine there and he was the one who had brought the drugs there.
“Mr. Draves was the man living outside the house. So would it be reasonable that it was his sole methamphetamine found in the house? To me it seems reasonable he would keep his things where he resides. If he resides in the motor home and goes into the house for any reason, he’s not going to leave his items, like methamphetamine, in the house. But more importantly, again going back to Ms. Smades’ testimony, she testified that yeah he sometimes bummed drugs from other people. He lived in the driveway and bummed drugs off other people. So the meth in the house wouldn’t be solely Mr. Draves’.”
“Ms. Smades told you about her own drug use, that she used meth sometimes. When asked where she got her drugs, she said from Mr. Willing. So the only person who brings drugs to this household, if you will, is Christopher Willing,” he told the jury.
Although the state said Willing was responsible for all the items found on his property, his attorney offered another theory as to how they ended up there. He argued it was possible the meth and tire machine had found their way to the property with the help of either Willing’s girlfriend or the man living in the trailer on the property.
“Not guilty. My client is not guilty because the state has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden is not if he could have done it, it’s not that he might have done it. The state has the burden to prove my client did it beyond a reasonable doubt,” Gent said. “In my opening argument I said how important it was to choose your friends wisely. We know three people lived on the property.”
In the end the jury found Willing guilty on all three counts.
Following his conviction, Willing took a plea deal in a second case that was scheduled to go to trial this week.
Instead of pleading guilty to a category B felony charge of meth trafficking, he pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor DUI charge and the trial was vacated.
Willing is scheduled to be back in court on July 18 for sentencing.