PALO PINTO – On Tuesday, a Palo Pinto County jury determined Cecil Ray Huddleston, 50, of Mineral Wells, was not responsible for the death of his wife Shannon Sheri Herrin, who was believed to have died from a toxic dose of methamphetamine.
Huddleston, however, was found guilty of delivery of less than 1 gram of methamphetamine to Herrin. Sentencing was to begin Wednesday morning.
Herrin, 38, was found dead Aug. 8, 2013, inside a deep freezer in the garage of her Mineral Wells home by her son, Jordan Glover, 22.
During testimony in the trial presided over by 29th Judicial Court Judge Michael Moore, Glover said he was visiting his mom’s home because he “wanted to check on Mom because she wasn’t at work.”
He and his mother had the same employer at the time, he told the eight-woman, four-man jury, and she had not shown up for work. He also said his mother had seemed upset that he had moved out of the house to live with his girlfriend and he was concerned about her mood.
He told the jury that when he arrived at the house on Aug. 8, the only person he found inside the home was Hunter Whitley, the teenage son of Holly Sloan, both of whom were staying with Herrin and Huddleston temporarily.
Unable to find his mother inside the home, he said he decided he would raid the freezer for meat to take back to his place. On opening the deep freeze in the garage, he discovered his mother dead inside.
Her body was face up and covered by a yellow rain coat, he told the jury.
“I just freaked out,” he said. He called his grandmother and then called authorities.
Initial investigation of Herrin’s death by the Mineral Wells Police Department determined there were no signs of major trauma, but there appeared to be bruising on the left elbow and a discolored mark consistent with a puncture wound from a needle, Detective Neal Davis said during testimony. Drug paraphernalia commonly used for marijuana was later found inside the home.
Fresh needle marks on the inside crooks of both arms were discovered during an autopsy of Herrin’s body by medical examiner Tracy Dyer of the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office, Dyer said during testimony, and toxicology reports later confirmed Herrin had methamphetamine in her system when she died.
According to Dyer’s findings, Herrin’s death was caused by the toxic effects of methamphetamine with hypothermia as a contributing factor. Additionally, toxicology reports also indicated other substances found in the body included marijuana, hydrocodone and a prescription anti-anxiety medication.
Dyer said though the blood showed multiple substances, “methamphetamine was the cause of death,” although the death was determined to be accidental.
After the autopsy report revealed methamphetamine had been the cause of death, Palo Pinto District Attorney Mike Burns said the unusual circumstances behind Herrin’s death led to further investigation as to the source of the methamphetamine.
From the investigation it appeared Huddleston had been the person who delivered the methamphetamine to Herrin, Burns said, and led to Huddleston’s indictment last January on charges of manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance causing death or serious bodily injury.
The investigation, led by Texas Ranger Tony Bradford, also appeared to show Herrin had climbed into the freezer on her own, Bradford said during Tuesday’s testimony.
Defense attorney Chad Cannon said the statute used to arrive at the charges is usually aimed at drug dealers who sell primarily to juveniles who die or are seriously injured from the drug use.
Cannon said the intent of the statute wasn’t meant to prosecute end users like Huddleston and Herrin.
Both he and Burns said cases such as the one brought against Huddleston are rare.
Burns said in his preparation for the case he only found four other instances of similar cases, and the current case is the only one he knew of in Texas that involved a death.
As evidence surfaced in Tuesday’s trial, it was clear both Huddleston and Herrin had been involved with methamphetamine use and had chronic issues with the drug. In a videotaped interview conducted Aug. 16, 2013, by Lt. Matt Mull of the Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigation Division, Huddleston, cooperating with the investigation, said he and Herrin had been clean for some time but had relapsed into using the drug.
In an excerpt from the video, Huddleston told Mull they had used about “half a gram of dope,” shooting up with methamphetamine twice on Aug. 7, once in the morning and later that night. Around 1:20 a.m. on Aug. 8, Huddleston then said he went to a dealer to purchase more methamphetamine to use later.
“I did go back and get more,” he said in the video.
He said he planned to use the drug later in the day, but Herrin wanted to take it then, so he filled a syringe with 20 units and gave the syringe to Herrin, who injected the drug herself.
Burns argued that Huddleston’s purchasing the drug and then giving it to Herrin constituted delivery of methamphetamine and that this injection was enough to cause her death.
Cannon countered that it was possible Herrin had used more methamphetamine with Sloan, who reportedly was a heavy user, but no evidence was available that such an event had occurred. He also said the other drugs in Herrin’s system could have contributed to her death.
Cannon also argued that Herrin might have been attempting suicide by overdosing on drugs and then climbing into the freezer.
He said Herrin had a long history mental health issues, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and had made several suicide attempts in the past.
The jury will convene Wednesday for the sentencing phase of the trial.
Huddleston faces a state jail felony offense for the delivery of the methamphetamine.