MARQUETTE - After a little more than an hour of deliberation, the jury in the case of an area man charged in connection with a Dec. 1 methamphetamine lab explosion in Gwinn returned a guilty verdict.
Richard Hill, 38, who was staying at the home on Elm Street where the incident occurred, was found guilty in Marquette County Circuit Court of one count of conspiracy to use a dwelling for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine, a 20-year felony.
"We're satisfied with the verdict," said Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese. "I believe the jury saw there was a conspiracy by the individuals in question to manufacture meth."
Hill was one of four people charged in connection with the blast.
A sentencing hearing for Hill was not scheduled as of press time this morning.
Hill's attorney Ted Fulsher argued Hill had no involvement in the events leading to the explosion.
Wiese argued the opposite, saying Hill was instrumental in procuring the ingredients needed to cook the meth and in the actual manufacturing process.
Several people involved in the incident testified against Hill, per plea agreements made with the Marquette County Prosecutor's Office, including Bridget Black, 33, of Gwinn.
Black is serving time in the Marquette County Jail - as per her plea agreement - on one count of operating a vehicle under the influence/causing serious injury, a five-year felony, and one count of use of a controlled substance (morphine), a one-year misdemeanor.
Black testified that Hill drove her to several stores in Marquette so they could purchase the necessary ingredients to manufacture meth.
Hill, testifying in his defense, said he decided to drive Black to Marquette because she was "in no condition to drive," after using morphine to get high. Hill said he didn't know what she was planning to buy in the stores she wanted to stop at and was not involved in manufacturing any drugs that day. Hill said he wasn't even in the house when the explosion occurred, but ran back inside after he heard a loud boom.
As Hill recounted how he had helped put a fire out that was burning Brian Chapman Howe, 44, of Marquette, who was on fire as a result of the blast, he began to choke up.
"He was on his hands and knees, looking up and screaming," Hill said. "The flames were two feet off of his back. ... He was totally engulfed."
Hill's trial was the second in a series of trials that stem from the Dec. 1 incident.
Aaron Armatti, 38 - owner of the residence where the blast occurred - pleaded guilty last month to one count of using a controlled substance, a one-year misdemeanor, after a two-day trial and two days of jury deliberation on a more serious charge of conspiracy to provide a dwelling for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine, a 20-year felony.
Howe, 44, was severely burned in the incident and spent time recovering in the University of Michigan Burn Unit in Ann Arbor. Following his release from the burn center, he was pulled over in Washtenaw County for a minor traffic violation and subsequently arrested on an outstanding Marquette County warrant.
Howe is in the Marquette County Jail, having pleaded not guilty by mail to one count of maintaining a drug lab involving methamphetamine, a 20-year felony.
However, Wiese said this morning the charge may be amended to conspiracy to use a dwelling for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine, also a 20-year felony.
A scheduling conference in Howe's case is slated for 11:45 a.m. June 15.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.