Cronin jury returns 22 guilty verdicts

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Tobinsport man convicted of meth-dealing charges

By Vince Luecke

TELL CITY - After a wearying final day that saw him testifying in his own defense, Kenneth Cronin showed little emotion Monday night as jurors in his methamphetamine trial returned one guilty verdict after another, 22 in all, that will likely send the Tobinsport man to prison for decades.

Cronin, 45, will be sentenced April 6 on four Class A felony charges of dealing in methamphetamine and 16 other felony and misdemeanor counts of possessing the drug, ingredients used in its manufacture, marijuana and paraphernalia. The Class A felonies carry an advisory sentence of 30 years but Karen Werner, Perry County's magistrate and presiding judge in the case, could add up to 20 years for aggravating factors.

In a second phase of the trial, jurors found Cronin guilty of two additional offenses of unlawful possession of a firearm. The two charges, which are B felonies, were filed because Cronin, in 1998, was convicted in federal court in Illinois of possessing meth with the intent to distribute the drug. That conviction makes it illegal for him to possess a firearm.

The six-day trial focused on the April 18, 2008, searches by police of Cronin's home on Highwater Road and a second residence he owned on Aster Road. Police obtained warrants after learning from another man suspected of drug activity, Derrick Stiles, that Cronin was making and dealing in meth.

Cronin was arrested at the Aster Road home. At the time, state and local police were in the midst of a local meth probe that resulted in the dismantling of numerous clandestine drug labs, as well as several arrests.

Police officers and state-police technicians offered testimony last week about the meth, drug-making supplies and guns found at both properties. Stiles also testified about Cronin's involvement and the information he agreed to give officers.

Stiles was not charged in the case and Cronin's defense attorney, Michael McDaniel, repeatedly questioned Stiles' testimony. Cronin went as far as suggesting it was Stiles who planted drugs, guns and other evidence to entrap him.

Cronin on the Stand

Cronin took the stand Monday morning and denied knowing anything about the meth, drug-making supplies and a small arsenal of weapons found by police.

He told jurors he knew nothing about a handgun found under a mattress in his master bedroom at Highwater Road and a shotgun police said they pulled from underneath a mattress at the house on Aster Road.

Cronin said Stiles, a man who was once a close friend who "ate supper with us and drove four-wheelers with," was the likely source of the evidence he said was planted in his primary residence on Highwater Road.

Cronin said Stiles made meth at a nearby camp and rented the second home from him on Aster Road. He claimed Stiles had access to Cronin's garage on Highwater Road and knew the location of a key to the house.

Cronin said he drove to the Aster Road property April 18 to mow the grass and said Stiles was supposed to have been there trimming weeds.

Cronin offered an explanation for the more than $9,000 he was carrying at the time of his arrest. The wad of cash, he told jurors Monday, included $6,700 he won the previous day at Casino Aztar in Evansville. He regularly carried about $2,000 in his wallet, Cronin said, money he used to strike bargains for used cars, trucks and ATVs.

Under direct questioning by McDaniel, Cronin admitted he used meth and marijuana and had bought meth from Stiles. But he denied involvement in making the drug. He said the fumes would have damaged the finishes on vehicles he painted in the garage as part of a car-repair and refinishing business.

Cronin was cross-examined Monday morning by Perry County Deputy Prosecutor Jason Hoch, who questioned how someone would have had the time to plant meth, drug-making supplies and guns at Cronin's Highwater Road house.

He also asked why Cronin would rent the second home to a man he knew was a meth cook. "Because I'm a meth user," Cronin shot back. Cronin said he had told Stiles not to make meth at the house on Aster Road because there were homes nearby.

Cronin repeatedly denied owning any of the weapons. He also denied knowing anything about a metal cylinder police testified was found in the man's truck on Highwater Road that held meth and cocaine.

Cronin said the radio-detection equipment found in a garage at Highwater Road had been purchased at Stiles' request. Police said the equipment could have been used to detect radio signals from someone wearing a recording device. Cronin said he had no reason to worry about anyone wearing a wire. He told jurors he tried to hide his meth addiction from his wife, but never made the drug.

Perry County Prosecutor Robert Collins told jurors in closing arguments the evidence found at both locations: drugs, clandestine-lab supplies, guns and cash, left no doubt about Cronin's guilt.

"When you're cooking meth and dealing in meth you're carrying large amounts of cash and you're carrying guns for your safety," he said.

Collins tried to punch holes in Cronin's story about winning thousands of dollars at a casino, saying there was no proof of the winnings.

Cronin's gambling records were subpoenaed Monday and showed he had won more than $4,000 but lost more than $27,000 over the past several months. However, the last entry the casino could show was dated April 11, a week before his arrest.

Cronin testified he won $1,000 six separate times and another $700, all from the same machine. He said those separate amounts did not require him to fill out paperwork, thus there was no record of his winnings.

Cronin said he did not take his awards card with him when he went to the casino and thus, Aztar had no record of his presence there. The cards are placed in slot machines and keep track of winnings and losses for gamblers' tax records.

Asked by Hoch if he claimed the winnings or losses, Cronin said he hadn't filed taxes since he was jailed.

In his closing remarks, McDaniel continued to point at Stiles, saying he turned police toward Cronin to hide his own drug activity. He said Stiles was willing to do anything to save himself and had a week to make plans to ensure Cronin was captured.

"He agreed to help (police) catch the big fish and Kenny was the big fish," he told jurors. "He had a week to plan out what he was going to do, a week to make Kenny the big fish."

McDaniel asked why there weren't others who could point to Cronin as a meth dealer. "Would there not have been additional folks police could have scrounged up to testify other than Stiles?" he asked.

Collins said the information Stiles gave to officers was accurate. Even without Stiles' testimony, the physical evidence against Cronin was overwhelming, Collins said.

Jurors deliberated less than 90 minutes before returning their verdicts around 6:20 p.m. Jurors took less than half an hour to find Cronin guilty of the two firearms charges.

Cronin is awaiting trial in two unrelated cases. He was charged in 2006 with neglect of a dependent and unlawful possession of a firearm after his 3-year-old son shot himself While Cronin was sleeping. He was arrested in November 2007 on charges of possessing methamphetamine, marijuana and paraphernalia.

Editor's Note: Drug charges filed last year against Cronin's wife, Shannon, were mentioned in Monday's story on the trial. She said Thursday it was important for the public to know those charges had later been dismissed. Court records show they were.