A young Madison woman was facing an uncertain future last week in Boone County Circuit Court, however an unanticipated change in one witness’s story changed her luck for the better.
Chelsea Dolan, 22, of Madison was in court last Thursday facing a possible prison term after being accused of violating the terms of her probation.
Dolan was originally implicated with Heather Morris, and Jerry Messer II, in connection with a series of 2007 burglaries that were apparently conducted to obtain funding to purchase prescription drugs. A break led sheriff’s deputies and state troopers to identify the trio and the local pawnshop that police believe they sold stolen goods to.
Over several months in 2008 and 2009 the trio eventually entered into plea bargain agreements that led to probation for the two young women and prison time for the young man.
Morris and Dolan pleaded guilty to felony charges and as part of their probation were required to enter into the drug court program. According to court records, both young women are currently following all the rules of the drug court, but late last month, Dolan was accused of a serious felony. A number of participants in the Lincoln County Drug Court tested positive for opiods and at least two people in the drug court said Dolan either had drugs in her possession at the time or was selling pills.
In the preliminary hearing last week the probation office was seeking to remove Dolan from the program and send her to prison to serve her initial sentence from Circuit Judge Will Thompson.
The office’s case was based around the testimony of two women in the program. The first witness on the stand was Melissa Tabor Toppings, who is now in jail on related charges. Toppings was on home confinement for public intoxication and a violent case of domestic battery.
Neither woman was offered protection or immunity from prosecution from Prosecuting Attorney Parker Bazil.
Toppings told the judge she was in pain from a previous back injury, which prompted her to seek out the prescription medication. "My stepson had stolen my pain medication and I couldn’t get anymore until next month," Toppings said. "I was told that Chelsea had some pills, and I asked her if she had some." She alleged that Dolan sold her a Lortab tablet, which she split in two, and shared with the other witness, Jessica Stone. "I gave Chelsea approximately $7.50 for the pill the next day.” Stone said she had given Dolan a $10 bill and asked Dolan to buy her a Monster drink and keep the change.
Stone, a young single mother and resident of Morrisvale had also allegedly charged Dolan with having drugs. "We rode to drug court together and one day when we got there, Chelsea told me to ‘lock the door, I’ve got pills in here.’ Stone said she was unsure exactly what sort of drugs were in the car, if any."
Stone continued, "Chelsea told me she wouldn’t take illegal drugs anymore because she was trying to get away from that." Pressed by Defense attorney Jim Cagle, Stone admitted she signed a statement charging her friend with selling drugs but, ‘ they could have been antibiotics or anything. I don’t really know if they were illegal drugs."
Stone refuted testimony previously given by Toppings, who had testified that both women had shared a Lortab tablet.
When asked by Prosecuting Attorney Parker Bazil if she had ever shared a Lortab tablet with Ms. Toppings, Stone adamantly denied the allegation. “No; never,” she said.
Toppings had testified that she had approached Dolan about obtaining a Lortab, but was told by Dolan that she was in need of money to pay her cell phone bill and Toppings would need to buy it for $8. According to Toppings, after an amount was agreed to, Dolan went to her silver car, parked at the garden of the Day Report Center, and gave her the pill.
This testimony, too, was in sharp contrast to Stone’s testimony, in which she claims that at no time did she witness Dolan ever exchanging money or pills with anybody. Also according to Stone, on the day that she alleges Dolan told her there were “pills” in her car, Dolan’s vehicle was not parked at the garden of the Day Report Center. Rather, according to Stone, a van had transported those persons in drug court to the garden.
In addition to these inconsistencies in witness testimony, Toppings admitted to picking on Dolan.
“I used to pick on her and aggravate her when she first started there,” Toppings said.
When asked to elaborate, Toppings explained, “She didn’t like to get dirty, so I rubbed mud in her face. I think I picked up a bug one time and put it on her back.”
After an extended hearing, Judge Thompson reached a decision. "I have concerns about the inconsistencies in Jessica Stone’s testimony. Her testimony today is quite different than what she said in her original statement. I don’t know why that is."
The judge continued, "Frankly, I tend to believe Melissa Tabor’s testimony for the most part." Finally, Thompson gave his verdict on the state’s case. "I’m sorry to say the state was unable to prove their case. The testimony of these two witnesses have too many inconsistencies to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Dolan committed this act."
While the young woman was no longer headed for a prison sentence at that point, she could not escape the ire of Judge Thompson. "You’re a thief, You’re a two-time convicted felon,” Thompson admonished. “I’ve sat here and watched you today during this hearing and you’ve been giggling. I don’t think you get it. If I was facing a prison term, the last thing I’d be doing is giggling. I sent you to jail a few months ago and you came back with your hair in corn rows."
He continued, "You make no sense to me. You come from a very good home with a wonderful support network, but you still violate the law. You’re a thief, and a drug addict, and you need to get your life together before it’s too late.
"I think it’s likely that you did what you were charged with here today, but your friend Ms. Stone changed her statement. It’s anybody’s guess why that happened."
At one point the judge said, “It certainly was a different story than she gave my probation officer.”
“I think Ms. Stone has decided to change her story. I don’t know why Ms. Stone changer her story. I don’t know why you, of all people, would be taking a chance selling drugs.”
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Maybe I should have been more harsher with you,” he said.
“You’ve passed a number of drug screens, but I still don’t know if you get it.”
The judge expressed his anger regarding public rumors swirling around the case. "I hear that I’m supposedly playing favorites between you and Heather Morris. I have treated both your cases with equal seriousness. This is not the case of Chelsea Dolan versus Miss Morris. It’s the State of West Virginia versus Chelsea Dolan. I’m hearing too much talk that I’m picking on Chelsea or picking on Miss Morris.”
“The State is unable to meet their requirements of probable cause,” he concluded.
The judge ordered her release, but mandated that before she could go home, Dolan was required to have a home confinement bracelet on her leg. "You are hereby ordered back into the drug court program. So far you have tested negative for drugs and are doing everything I’ve ordered of you. You need to keep that up." After the hearing, Thompson asked the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to investigate whether Jessica Stone’s testimony could allow her to be charged with perjury.
Prosecuting Attorney Parker Bazil told the Coal Valley News that it takes more than giving false witness under oath, there are a lot of factors that are involved in charging someone with perjury. No action to charge either witness with perjury has been taken as of this printing.