Jury finds Craig man guilty on two drug felonies
Curtis Shewfelt is convicted on two counts related to bringing heroin into Eagle County for distribution in summer 2017
The prosecution prevailed in the trial of Curtis Dean Shewfelt on Thursday evening despite a missing witness and attempts by the defense to block a key piece of evidence in its case to prove Shewfelt brought heroin into Eagle County for distribution in summer 2017.
After four years of dismissals, an appeal and a mistrial, the jury returned a verdict finding Shewfelt guilty on both counts charged — conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute, both class 3 drug felonies.
In the third and final day of the trial, the jury finally got to hear more about a series of text messages between Shewfelt and a man purported to be Samuel Fightlin.
The inclusion of the messages as evidence was a source of contention between the two sides Wednesday with the defense arguing the prosecution could not prove Fightlin was one of the messengers beyond him being listed as such in Shewfelt’s contacts.
The texts take place on and leading up to July 13, 2017, when Shewfelt and his friend Holiday Sanchez were arrested after Sanchez attempted to evade police with more than 16 grams of heroin in the vehicle. Shewfelt was supposed to deliver the heroin to Fightlin for distribution across Eagle County, according to Johnny Lombardi and Amy Padden of the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
There was no other reason Shewfelt would have been coming into the mountains with drugs past 3:30 a.m. to meet with a suspected drug dealer, they said, and after obtaining a search warrant to pull data from Shewfelt’s phone, they have messages to prove it.
The whole night was a “big deal that arose out of the defendant’s ‘little problem,’” Padden concluded, alluding to Shewfelt’s confession to having a small problem with heroin in an interview with law enforcement.
Defense attorney Jesse Wiens, on the other hand, maintained that the prosecution lacked the evidence to prove Shewfelt is guilty and that he knew nothing about the drugs present in the car as Sanchez drove them into the mountains that night.
“You have to ask yourself along each step of the way: Have they proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt?” Wiens asked the jury before deliberation Thursday afternoon. “This isn’t the grandiose case that the people made it out to be …”
Sgt. Detective Aaron Veldheer of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, a longtime leader in drug-related investigations, testified to his analysis of the messages between Shewfelt and a contact by the name of “Sam Fight,” a nickname used by Fightlin.
In one of the messages, Fightlin asked Shewfelt for “half a black” and “half a clear.”
Based on his training and experience in the field, Veldheer said that “half” referred to the weight of the drugs Fightlin appeared to be ordering with “black” being common slang for heroin and “clear” being methamphetamine.
In another exchange, the person presumed to be Fightlin tells Shewfelt that he is tired of dealing with other suppliers who make promises they cannot or do not deliver on and talks about getting his supply from Shewfelt instead.
On the night before Shewfelt’s early morning arrest in summer 2017, the two discuss plans for Shewfelt to come into the mountains with Shewfelt saying: “I might only bring a half.”
“…I’m not going to f— around I’m giving you another chance bro,” Fightlin said. In a prior exchange, Fightlin asked Shewfelt “why do you always pull this s—.”
Shewfelt talks about meeting someone and then heading out shortly after, but later stops responding and, ultimately, is detained by local law enforcement.
During his questioning of Veldheer, Wiens honed in on his statement that he could only speculate as to the meaning of one of the text messages highlighted by the prosecution.
Wasn’t he then only speculating on the meaning of all the texts, Wiens asked, in an attempt to discredit Veldheer’s translation of various “drug terms” as he called them.
“The speculation comes from my training, my experience in ordering controlled substances” as an undercover officer, Veldheer said in response.
Beyond not proving that the man Shewfelt was texting was actually Fightlin, Wiens said the prosecution could not definitely prove that the phone belonged to Shewfelt. The computer forensic examiner who worked on the phone found two numbers, or two SIM cards, associated with it and someone could have been borrowing the phone when those messages were sent, he said.
But the forensic examiner, Tim Rhodes, also testified that he found multiple identifiers linking the phone, and the number used to send the messages, to Shewfelt, Lombardi said. Some of the texts were sent while Shewfelt and Sanchez were driving up to the mountains that night, and no one else was in the car with them, he said.
Wiens also challenged the prosecution on whether the amount of heroin found in Shewfelt’s truck was enough to merit the possession with intent to distribute charge versus being for personal use.
Over 16.7 grams is a fairly hefty amount of heroin, Veldheer said, but is not nearly as much as investigators initially reported when weighing the substances in their containers, according to police reports.
However, investigators look at a variety of factors when determining whether a situation constitutes a distribution charge, he said. The amount of drugs found is weighed alongside other things like the presence of large amounts of money, ledgers or notes keeping track of sales, and packaging used to divvy up drugs.
They did not find much of this kind of “evidence of distribution” beyond that the heroin was divided into three small containers and there was a roll of tin foil in the car, which Veldheer said is sometimes used to separate heroin due to its sticky texture.
Shewfelt exercised his right to remain silent Thursday, opting out of the chance to tell the jury his side of the story.
This left the jury to deliberate without the perspective of the two people closest to the incident at the heart of the trial. Still, jurors came back with a verdict in a little over three hours, deciding unanimously that Shewfelt is guilty on both counts.
Shewfelt is set to be sentenced on the morning of Sept. 8.
Email Kelli Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org