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Mitchell mom found guilty of helping sons sell pot

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News Mitchell,South Dakota 57301 http://www.mitchellrepublic.com/sites/all/themes/mitchellrepublic_theme/images/social_default_image.png
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Mitchell mom found guilty of helping sons sell pot
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

A Mitchell woman was found guilty Tuesday of aiding her sons in the sale of marijuana.

After a two-day trial, a jury of seven women and five men found Charlene Marie Stahl, 43, guilty of aiding and abetting possession with the intent to distribute more than 1 ounce but less than one-half pound of marijuana, and contributing to the abuse, neglect or delinquency of a child. She will be sentenced at a later date.

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She was found not guilty of possession of more than 2 ounces but less than one-half pound of marijuana.

Stahl was indicted on the three charges in November. Both drug-related charges are felonies, and contributing to the abuse, neglect or delinquency of a minor is a misdemeanor.

During Tuesday's court proceedings, Stahl's attorney, Mike Fink, of Bridgewater, motioned for acquittal on the charge of aiding and abetting based on a lack of evidence from the state. After the verdict was given, District Judge Sean O'Brien decided to give one week to both attorneys to write a brief on Fink's motion for acquittal. If the motion is granted, the conviction will be vacated; otherwise, it will stand as handed down by the jury.

All the charges against Stahl relate to a search of her residence at 1110 S. Kimball St. by law enforcement Sept. 14 on a suspicion her sons -- Derik Nespor, 19, and a 17-year-old minor -- were selling marijuana. The search uncovered approximately 5.51 ounces of marijuana and several other drug-related items. The search was conducted by the Mitchell Police Division, state Division of Criminal Investigation and state Highway Patrol.

Nespor pleaded guilty April 17 to possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of hydrocodone. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 29.

The minor was not charged in adult court, but according to his testimony, did admit to selling marijuana in juvenile court.

During her closing argument, Assistant Attorney General Katie Mallery compared the jury's job to putting together a puzzle.

"It's your job as a jury to put those pieces together," she said.

Mallery asked jurors to find Stahl guilty on all three counts.

"She knows what is going on, she's promoting it and she's facilitating it," Mallery said of Stahl in her closing argument.

In his closing statement, Fink admitted the state had proved Stahl contributed to the delinquency of a minor by giving her 17-year-old son cigarettes.

"I'm not going to tell you that you should find not guilty on that count," he said.

But he also claimed the state had not produced sufficient evidence to prove the other, more serious charges.

"There is no evidence at all that Charlene did anything to bring the marijuana into the house, to repackage it, or to otherwise prepare it for sale," Fink said.

Most of the witnesses testifying earlier in the day were Stahl's family members.

Nespor and his 17-year-old brother both testified Stahl did not know the boys regularly possessed and sold marijuana.

"She had nothing to do with this," said the 17-year-old.

He testified Stahl confronted him on at least one occasion about the possibility he was involved with drugs.

"She may have had her suspicions, but she wasn't for sure," he said.

He testified he had been selling marijuana for four years.

Stahl occasionally gave him cigarettes, but did not allow him to smoke in the house, he said.

Both of Stahl's sons disputed claims that a strong odor of marijuana was present in the basement during the police search. Several law enforcement officers remarked on the smell in earlier testimony.

The brothers claimed to only have smelled recently tiled floor, newly painted walls and other renovations under way in the basement. The work was being done because of water damage caused by a flood in the basement, they said.

The state produced evidence consisting of text messages between Stahl and her 17-year-old son that, according to the testimony of Mitchell Police Investigator Dean Knippling, used coded language to discuss the sale of marijuana.

Stahl's 17-year-old son claimed that automatic corrections made by the phones were to blame for some of the unusual language in the messages, and those which appear to be about marijuana were actually about cigarettes.

Stahl's husband and mother, who both live in the same house as Stahl and her two sons, each testified they had no knowledge of the presence or sale of marijuana in the house. Both also said they would not recognize the smell of marijuana.

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