Supreme Court upholds conviction in Harrington meth case

Thomas N. Van Vliet

Thomas N. Van Vliet

DOVER — A convicted Harrington man’s attempt to disconnect himself from a methamphetamine manufacturing case was denied by the Delaware Supreme Court on Monday.

While Thomas N. Van Vliet was acquitted on drug dealing and operating or attempting to operate a clandestine laboratory charges, he was found guilty of possession of firearm by person prohibited and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Van Vliet contended that his firearm conviction was “inconsistent” due to his acquittal on drug charges.

Also, Van Vliet maintained, a thwarted attempt to admit into evidence co-defendant’s Johsua Wilson’s guilty plea in a docket sheet at trial was unconstitutional, according to a 17-page order issued by Justice Karen L. Valihura.

The case unfolded at approximately 6:30 a.m. on June 11, 2014 at  1658 Woodyard Road in Harrington when approximately 16 officers from Kent, New Castle, and Sussex counties raided a residence suspected of being a clandestine laboratory for manufacturing methamphetamine. Authorities said they had been investigating suspected illegal operations for four months.

The Supreme Court agreed with Superior Court’s earlier determination that “there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that [Van Vliet] possessed a handgun and possessed methamphetamine,” noting that methamphetamine was “found in the master bedroom and on the living room coffee table belonged to Van Vliet.

“Similarly, a rational trier of fact could have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Van Vliet possessed the loaded revolver found in the master bedroom nightstand, in proximity to papers addressed to him.

“At trial, he admitted that he possessed the handgun but claimed it was owned by a third party. Thus … a rational juror could have found Van Vliet guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the compound weapon offense.”

Citing case law and rule of evidence, Justice Valihura maintained that Wilson’s guilty pleas “does not necessarily make it more likely that Van Vliet was not involved. In fact, as the State pointed out, Wilson pled guilty to conspiring (third degree) with Van Vliet. …”

The Court ruled that a docket sheet listing only Wilson’s guilty plea and containing no reference to Van Vliet “may have misled the jury and resulted in prejudice to the State.”

Also, according to Justice Valihura, Wilson’s guilty plea “does not preclude Van Vliet’s involvement in the same criminal conduct, particularly considering that the contraband substance was found inside his residence, where he was apprehended.”

Delaware State Police originally charged Van Vliet, 40 at the time, with three counts of a deadly weapon by a person prohibited, operating a clandestine laboratory, manufacturing methamphetamine, second-degree conspiracy, resisting arrest, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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