PORTLAND, Maine — In January 2012, police found an Augusta area man in the process of boiling a chemical substance while in possession of the illegal drug cookbook “Uncle Fester’s Synthetic Manual,” as well as many of the products and glassware necessary to create methamphetamines.
But because Aaron Lowden, then 41, hadn’t successfully concocted any of the dangerous drugs at the time police discovered the alleged lab and evacuated the home, there was insufficient evidence to support his subsequent conviction on drug trafficking charges, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday.
In a decision written by Justice Donald Alexander, the state’s highest court threw out the conviction of Lowden and sent the case back to York County Superior Court.
The law court determined that Lowden could not possibly have been trafficking drugs if, technically, there were no drugs on site to be trafficking, even if police and prosecutors could argue the manufacturing of those drugs was Lowden’s ultimate — but interrupted — goal.
The case is rooted in a Jan. 14, 2012, incident in which a Lebanon woman called police to investigate what she believed was suspicious activity by Lowden, a previously homeless man to whom she’d been renting a second floor room.
The woman witnessed Lowden making repeated trips to the home’s basement, despite the fact that the boarder was not keeping belongings there, and she began to smell “a strange odor” from the downstairs space, according to court documents.
A York County Sheriff’s Office deputy responded to the call and ultimately found Lowden in the basement tending to a small cooking stove and two glass containers, one of which contained a boiling substance emitting fumes, the court records continue. The deputy turned off the stove and evacuated the home.
A subsequent investigation of Lowden’s possessions by state and local agents turned up a copy of “Uncle Fester’s Synthetic Manual,” as well as many of the chemicals and glassware necessary to produce methamphetamines.
Lowden was later indicted, tried and convicted on a charge of aggravated trafficking of scheduled drugs. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
But Lowden, represented by Portland attorney Thomas Connolly, appealed the conviction to the state’s highest court. On Tuesday, the court ruled in his favor and acquitted him.
“Unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs mandates not only that a person ‘trafficks’ in a drug, but that the drug ‘is in fact a scheduled drug,’” the court’s decision, written by Alexander, reads. “One cannot ‘prepare’ or ‘process,’ and therefore traffick in, a drug that ‘is in fact a scheduled drug’ without a scheduled drug ultimately being produced.”
Helping Lowden’s case, Alexander wrote, was the fact that although he had many of the chemicals and equipment to make the drugs, he did not have all the chemicals necessary.
“No methamphetamine was found, Lowden lacked some of the chemicals necessary to create it, and the state did not present evidence — direct or circumstantial — from which a jury could have rationally inferred that Lowden successfully manufactured or possessed methamphetamine,” reads the court’s decision, in part. “Therefore, we must vacate his conviction for aggravated trafficking of scheduled drugs.”
Having gained an indictment and, ultimately, a jury conviction on a more serious charge, prosecutors did not seek a conviction on “attempted trafficking in scheduled drugs,” a lesser charge they may now pursue in a new trial.