Giggly through portions of her trial, but weepy at the end, Shelley Trowbridge, a 32-year-old mother of three, was convicted Thursday of trafficking in methamphetamine and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Trowbridge, a tall, slender blond woman who at times seemed cavalier about her circumstances, sobbed loudly as deputies handcuffed her and escorted her out of the 35th Judicial District courtroom.
Jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes Thursday morning before convicting her of delivery of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, a first degree felony with a maximum sentence of 99 years or life in prison.
Trowbridge’s attorney, Sam Mahaffey of Abilene, asked jurors to consider that it was Trowbridge’s first conviction and place her on probation.
But Assistant District Attorney Sam Moss asked jurors for a 30-year sentence — 10 more years than the prison sentence Trowbridge’s boyfriend and co-defendant, Kerry Smith, received last week.
Moss told jurors Smith, who had faced the same charge as Trowbridge, had accepted responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty before District Judge Steve Ellis. Ellis then sentenced Smith to 20 years in prison.
Moss told jurors that Trowbridge deserved more prison time than her co-defendant because she had never accepted responsibility.
Trowbridge and Smith were arrested after a traffic stop by deputy Jason Benefield near Lake Brownwood on March 4, 2006. Deputies found more than 50 grams of methamphetamine in Smith’s truck, in which Trowbridge was a passenger, testimony showed.
The prosecution contended that Smith and Trowbridge had gone to Abilene that day and bought the methamphetamine. Trowbridge was living with Smith in a house with surveillance equipment and police scanners, and was as heavily involved in dealing dope as was Smith, the prosecution contended. Sheriff’s Sgt. Tony Aaron showed jurors evidence including cell phone records the state contended linked Trowbridge to other drug dealers.
“Without her, there wouldn’t be a ‘him’ and vice-versa,” Moss told jurors, referring to Trowbridge and Smith.
The defense tried to convince jurors Trowbridge was an addict and a user, but was “along for the ride” with Smith, the real drug dealer of the two, so she could get high. Trowbridge had accompanied Smith to Abilene on March 4 so she could buy clothes for the funeral of her mother, who had died a day earlier.
As the trial progressed Tuesday, it was perceived by law enforcement officials and some courtroom observers that Trowbridge was showing up for court high. A story began making the rounds that a DPS trooper had stopped a vehicle Monday night, and the vehicle was occupied by Trowbridge and a man — both nude, Trowbridge apparently high.
On Wednesday, Mahaffey asked Trowbridge’s step-father, Rocky Trowbridge, if it seemed his stepdaughter was high “even now.”
“More so (Tuesday) than (Wednesday),” Rocky Trowbridge answered.
Mahaffey acknowledged his client’s apparent continued drug use in his closing argument to jurors. “I don’t want to say ‘airhead,’ but she shows up high for trial, for God’s sake,” Mahaffey said, continuing with his theme that Trowbridge is an addict.
The trial had unusual moments almost from the beginning. On Tuesday, as jurors prepared to enter the courtroom to hear opening statements, Mahaffey pleaded with Ellis for a 24-hour delay. Mahaffey said he’d been without sleep, was unprepared and could not think clearly. Ellis denied his request.
On Wednesday, Mahaffey called his wife, Claire, also an attorney who practices law with her husband, as a witness. The move stunned Moss, who lodged an objection. “Shocking would be the word to use,” Moss told Ellis.
Claire Mahaffey testified that Smith had called her and claimed that Trowbridge had nothing to do with the drugs found in the traffic stop. She also testified that she had briefly represented Trowbridge before her husband took over the case.
At one point, Moss, Sam Mahaffey and Claire Mahaffey talked at the same time. “Wait a minute!” Ellis said. “One at a time.”
Later Wednesday, Moss introduced court records showing Trowbridge and another man had been arrested in 2002 on felony drug charges.
Testimony showed then-District Attorney Sky Sudderth, without notifying or consulting with law enforcement officials, dismissed the felony charge against Trowbridge, and she pleaded guilty in a plea bargain to a misdemeanor charge. She was placed on six months deferred adjudication in that case.
Thursday morning, jurors returned the guilty verdict and the trial’s punishment phase began.
“You see these two naked people driving up?” DPS trooper Martin Molotsky asked a motorist on video taken by his patrol car’s camera and shown to jurors.
It was around 10:30 p.m. Monday and Molotsky was patrolling on County Road 257 near the 10 Mile Crossing. Molotsky stopped to check on a car stopped on the side of the road and spoke with the driver.
A pickup approached and slowed, and Molotsky aimed his flashlight at the vehicle, wanting to determine if it was a truck he’d seen earlier that night. The truck stopped.
“Both the male passenger and the female driver were nude in the vehicle. … They didn’t even have socks on, Molotsky told jurors. “They were naked. This is something you don’t run across every day.”
Molotsky learned that the “female passenger” was Shelly Trowbridge, and he believed she was high.
“Turn your truck off. Hand me your keys, fool,” Molotsky told the driver on the video. “You need to get some freakin’ clothes on — now.”
The two got dressed. “What’s your name, girl? … When’s the last time you smoked, ma’am?” Molotsky asked on the video.
Trowbridge insisted on the video she hadn’t “smoked” in six months, but Molotksy thought otherwise, telling another law enforcement official by phone or radio that “she’s bouncing all over the truck.”
The two said they’d been skinny-dipping, Molotsky told jurors. Trowbridge said on the video that she was embarrassed, but she also giggled and said she thought it was funny.
Ellis dismissed jurors for lunch, and Moss asked that Trowbridge’s bond be increased in light of her conviction earlier that morning. Trowbridge had been free on bond, but Ellis immediately raised the bond to $100,000 and ordered her taken into custody.
“I would like to be ‘UA’ “ Trowbridge called out, indicating she wanted to be given a urinalysis to test for drug use. She was given one later that day through the probation department, and it was negative, punishment phase testimony showed.
Methamphetamine stays in a person’s system one to three days, according to testimony.
Mahaffey said the negative UA convinced him he’d been wrong about Trowbridge showing up high for court.
After jurors left the courtroom later Thursday to deliberate Trowbridge’s punishment, one of Trowbridge’s family members stepped close to Moss and spoke briefly.
“You shut your mouth,” Moss responded angrily as the family member walked away. Deputies surrounded Moss and asked if the man had threatened him. Moss said it was “no big deal” and would not reveal what the man had said to him.