Conviction overturned after chemist testified while on meth

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — A Montana judge ordered a new trial for a man convicted of possessing methamphetamine after learning a state crime lab employee ingested meth before testifying to convict him.

"The manifest hypocrisy in this situation — when a Montana Department of Justice Employee with meth in his system testified and helped secure another man's meth possession conviction — is abhorrent," District Judge John Parker wrote Thursday.

Chemist Derek Thrush's testimony confirmed meth residue was found in a glass pipe James Donald Bachtell was carrying when he was arrested in June 2017.

Bachtell was convicted of felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs on Feb. 13.

Two days later, prosecutors learned an internal investigation at the crime lab found Thrush had removed meth samples from the crime lab after testing, rather than following policy that required unused samples to be destroyed.

Court records said Thrush later confided to a co-worker that he ingested meth during his drive to Bachtell's trial.

Parker overturned Bachtell's conviction and ordered a new trial for November, the Great Falls Tribune reported .

"Defense counsel believes Mr. Thrush committed perjury on the witness stand, at least to the extent that he testified he was following proper procedures," Defense Attorney Vince van der Hagen wrote in his motion for a new trial.

Parker's order found that Thrush "trampled on Mr. Bachtell's constitutional rights while sitting in the witness stand only several feet away from the presiding judge in this case."

Thrush was fired and pleaded guilty Aug. 14 to drug possession, theft and official misconduct in Missoula County. His sentencing is set for December.


This story corrects the spelling of the state chemist's first name to Derek.


Information from: Great Falls Tribune,

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