© 2018  Laura Jean Baker

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State v. Betty Crocker

October 24, 2017

On the fourth Tuesday of each month leading up to the release of my book-length memoir The Motherhood Affidavits (April 3, 2018), I will post an excerpt that did not make the final cut:

 

Opening Brent Timmerman’s trunk was like playing a game, wresting apart boxes within boxes. They discovered one container, which concealed another, which held a cache, which contained a stash, until they reached a bulging Hefty cinch sack. Officers could smell, through the heat-sealed storage bags inside, the marijuana – 2.2 pounds, a cotton-candy-broccoli composite, packaged neatly with four tortillas to keep it all fresh.

 

“You know where I’m from, that’s legal,” Timmerman yelled over the intermittent passing of cars heading East or West across the middle of Wisconsin. This particular strain of THC, Blue Dream, a medical marijuana hybrid, was recently named California’s “unofficial flavor of the year.”

 

Was it even possible Timmerman planned to smoke all that weed himself, or would a judge, or better yet a jury, reasonably conclude, that a bumper-crop so pungent, so abundant, was meant for profit?

 

Dispensaries in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, such as Colorado, Timmerman’s alleged point of departure, describe Blue Dream as a sleep aid, used to treat all types of stress with long-lasting effects. For Timmerman, however, this day marked the beginning of a nightmare – a $5000 cash bond neither his parents nor friends could afford and charges of Possession of THC with Intent to Deliver, the satchels of dope weighing in at 1064 grams.

 

Maximum penalty was $25,000 fine or ten years in prison, not to mention the possibility of federal charges for trafficking across state lines. But perhaps worst of everything Timmerman now faced an endless string of turbulent dreamless nights.

 

Timmerman never talked much about his service in Iraq, but I wondered how sitting in the Waushara County Jail “with only five fucking channels to watch on T.V.” compared to the uneasy monotony of war. Over the years, as veterans of wars in the Middle East enrolled in my creative writing courses, I’d come to grasp that warfare was as boring as it was traumatic. 

 

Once a proud soldier of America’s foreign wars, he was now a 30-year-old man who described his pre-meditated outbursts with police as “hissy fits.” Should he have labeled them something else – flashbacks, traumatic outbursts, or symptoms of agitation? And might that marijuana have been useful in helping Timmerman to chill out, as opposed to ending up in a state-sanctioned crematorium, Blue Dreams reduced to ash?

 

Ryan was appointed to represent Timmerman in August, and shortly thereafter, he obtained the discovery from Timmerman’s previous attorney. The police reports confirmed what the criminal complaint alleged – 2.2 pounds of hydroponic bud, professionally vacuum-sealed in a box discovered in Timmerman’s trunk. Well, Ryan thought, I better go see this sorry bastard to find out why he shit-canned his last lawyer.

 

When Ryan met Timmerman at the jail, the guy was vehemently angry and bitter, not the least bit willing to give some chump in a suit and tie the benefit of the doubt.

 

“As you know, Brent, you are charged with Possession with Intent to Deliver THC. I’ve talked to the D.A. He wants prison. I can probably get you ‘paper’ but you’re going to owe a year in jail on top of that.”

 

“I don’t want paper, and I’m not taking a plea,” Timmerman said.

 

“OK, well, what do you want?”

 

“A jury trial.”

 

“Alright, got any ideas about how I’m going to explain to a jury why you have two pounds of pot in your trunk? That’s not exactly a weekend dime-bag quantity. You can’t possibly smoke all that weed yourself.”

 

“I know,” Timmerman said. “I don’t smoke it. I bake with it.”

 

This was a start, Ryan thought. With Timmerman’s explanation that he was more of a baker than a toker, Ryan began to look at the evidence from a different perspective. Timmerman’s case didn’t present any of the other tell-tale signs of drug delivery. The marijuana was not divvied up into smaller quantity bags, there was no scale, no cell phone or contact list, and no drug ledger – none of the items he had learned prosecutors would use against dealers in similar busts. Maybe Timmerman’s tale might not be so tall.

 

“OK. We can work with this,” Ryan said. “Tell me everything about this dope from the moment you planted it until the moment you were arrested.” 

 

Over the next few weeks, Ryan used the seeds of Timmerman’s story – true or not – to spin a defense he was eager to share with the citizens of Waushara County, the second poorest of 72 counties in Wisconsin.

 

Just as Timmerman used Ryan, my husband would likewise use his client to emblemize several of many flaws in the criminal justice system. Even if Brent Timmerman himself did not talk openly about his tour of duty in Iraq or his anger management problems upon return to civilian life, Ryan determined they were crucial.

 

Ryan’s list of veteran clients was always growing, and he wondered how clear-cut the causal relationship was between war, veteran health care, and incidence of crime.

 

Two days prior to the trial, Ryan received a letter from the Circuit Judge stating that the jail administrator reported safety concerns: “The court was informed that Mr. Timmerman was allegedly involved in two significant jail misconduct incidents and has allegedly made statements that he ‘had nothing to lose.’” Timmerman would therefore be physically secured by leg shackles. A decorative bunting on the counsel table would sufficiently hide his restraint so as not to distract or influence the jury. Ryan took this in stride.

 

Timmerman would also be supervised discretely by an officer properly trained with Taser deployment, which, of course, Timmerman found laughable. His respect for authority had all but diminished during his stint serving the U.S. Army. Nevertheless, Timmerman himself showed up for the trial in professional clothes – a button-up shirt and Khakis – lending himself a degree of authority and civilian legitimacy. 

 

During the state’s case in chief, the D.A. called a top drug detective to testify about Timmerman’s bust. As Ryan anticipated, the officer testified that even if Timmerman smoked the standard half-gram dosage unit twice a day or so, there was no conceivable way for Ryan’s client to smoke those 2000 dosage units before the marijuana went bad, and therefore, it was reasonable to conclude that he planned to sell it.

 

In his cross examination, Ryan was careful to confirm the detective’s area of expertise.

 

“You’ve been a drug detective for twenty years?”

 

“Correct.”

 

“You have been involved in hundreds of drug busts during your career.”

 

“Correct.”

 

“You have busted other individuals for Possession with Intent to Deliver when they possessed similar, even smaller, quantities?”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“Detective, let me ask you, in your twenty years of experience, how many drug raids have you done on suspects who were baking with their marijuana?”

 

“None.”

 

“How many pot cookies have you confiscated during your career?”

 

“None.”

 

“And how much THC is needed in a recipe for four dozen chocolate chip cookies?”

 

“I have no idea.”

 

The cross examination unfolded exactly as Ryan had anticipated, and with those responses, Ryan was able to nominate Brent Timmerman as a leading expert in baking with Cannabis.

 

During a break for jurors, Timmerman was escorted to the stand, outside the presence of the jury. “You’d be surprised how seeing a guy in shackles will prejudice the jury,” Ryan said. “If the state puts him in restraints, he must already be guilty – that’s what they’d be thinking.”

 

When the jury returned from recess, Timmerman was on the stand, and to his credit, he would refrain entirely from using the word “fuck” throughout his testimony. Before Ryan could make Timmerman look like Betty Crocker on the witness stand, he’d need for Timmerman to explain why he needed THC. Marijuana was not legal in Wisconsin, and Waushara County was an incredibly rural-conservative place.

 

Timmerman began his testimony: “When I returned from Iraq, I was completely riddled with headaches and flashbacks. I could barely function.” Especially when he lay down to sleep at night, gruesome memories projecting onto the black screen of his eyelids, causing sleeplessness and nightmares. Doctors at the V.A. prescribed a host of drugs to alleviate his PTSD, none of which worked. Then one day, he sat in the waiting room with a buddy from basic training. It turned out that his cure for war-induced anxiety was to smoke a little bud before bedtime and drift off to sleep.

 

The problem for Timmerman was that he hated to smoke weed. It smelled terrible, but after realizing its dreamland effects, he had promptly learned to bake with the marijuana instead of lighting up – brownies and large batches of chocolate chip cookies he’d store in the freezer to be used indefinitely. According to Timmerman, digesting marijuana through the stomach, as opposed to the bloodstream, helped him to sleep long restful nights, something he imagined impossible upon first returning home from war.

 

“Once you extract the THC from the marijuana into butter or oil for cooking, it lasts a long time, just like other kinds of cooking oils,” he said. “The same goes for cookies, which you can freeze to preserve the effects, so there’s really no expiration date. You bake, just like you would anything else – from a box, from your grandma’s recipe, it doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve trapped the medicinal qualities in the fatty lipid you’re planning to use.”

 

“Aside from avoiding the smoke, what would you argue is another benefit of baking with marijuana?” Ryan asked.

 

“It lasts a lot longer, so I can actually get a decent night’s sleep,” Timmerman told the jurors, who against all odds, would  decide unanimously that this undecorated war veteran was not guilty, perhaps one way of expressing their gratitude for his service, not unlike pinning a weed boutonnière to his lapel, which would have resulted in the same restorative effect.

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