The first jury trial conducted in Franklin County since the imposition of public health restrictions in March 2020 resulted in a guilty verdict, announced Prosecuting Attorney Chris Huerkamp.

After deliberating briefly, jurors found Philip Richardson, 61, of Laurel, guilty of Possession of Methamphetamine, a Level 6 Felony. The evidence presented during trial centered around nearly half of a gram of methamphetamine that was recovered by Franklin County Sheriff's Deputy Dusty Hill during a traffic stop of Richardson on Dec. 22, 2018. Following the announcement of the verdict, Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Clay Kellerman remanded Richardson to jail, ordered a pre-sentence investigation, and scheduled a sentencing hearing for May 18. As a result of the Level 6 Felony conviction, Richardson is now facing 6-30 months of incarceration.

The State was represented at trial by Prosecuting Attorney Huerkamp, the Defendant by Michael Cunningham of the McMillin Law Office in Brookville. An additional misdemeanor count of Illegal Possession of a Controlled Substance was dismissed by the prosecution prior to trial because Richardson had provided evidence that he had a valid prescription at the time of the alleged offense, which under Indiana Law serves as a defense to that charge.

According to Huerkamp, Judge Kellerman's staff took numerous safety precautions to ensure that each prospective juror felt safe during the proceedings. As far as he could tell, no prospective juror expressed concerns that would impact his/her ability to focus on the trial. Huerkamp did not get to speak to any of the jurors following the verdict, but he didn't hear of any safety concerns expressed by the panel. “Judge Kellerman and his staff addressed the issue from the outset, and at least from what I know, no prospective juror was uncomfortable with the setup. I think I can speak for all parties involved in this case—attorneys, judge, and court staff--in thanking the entire jury pool for their service and attention during the course of the proceedings.”

Huerkamp was also grateful to have the assistance of Deputy Hill, both as the investigating officer and at trial. “I really can't say enough about the professionalism and integrity demonstrated by Dusty Hill, both during the course of the investigation and on the witness stand. During the trial, there were some inferences made by the Defense table that were soundly refuted by Deputy Hill's testimony and the other evidence. Of course, Defense Counsel was doing his job and fulfilling his duties to his client by holding the State to its burden of proof and questioning the evidence. In my opinion, Deputy Hill's responses and the evidence from his investigation allowed the jurors to see through that rather easily. He is a credit to Franklin County law enforcement in general and to the sheriff's department specifically.”

Finally, Huerkamp noted that Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Molly Brier capably represented the Prosecution during a previous suppression hearing in which she successfully argued for the State's position that it be denied.
As to the trial's impact on the bigger picture, Huerkamp said the following: “I'm very proud of how our local court system (as well as the community in general) has weathered unprecedented events and restrictions that have been imposed on it over the last 14 months. Setting aside the circumstances of the case itself, I hope that, at the end of the day, the trial represents a long-overdue return to normalcy.”

Submitted: Chris Huerkamp