By BRAD KELLAR
A Hunt County jury Thursday found a California man not guilty of dumping bags full of marijuana out of a plane while flying across the county three years ago.
“Pot fell out of the sky in Hunt County,” Katherine Ferguson, defense attorney for Darin William Fayne, told the jury in the 354th District Court during closing arguments. “The issue is, who was in that plane?”
Fayne, of Coarsegold, Calif. had pleaded not guilty to one count of possession of marijuana in an amount of between 50 and 2,000 pounds. Six duffel bags believed connected to a plane abandoned early the morning of July 19, 2010 at the Caddo Mills Municipal Airport have been recovered. The street value of the more than 200 pounds of hydroponic marijuana had been estimated at up to $1.5 million.
Ferguson explained prosecutors had failed to introduce any evidence or witnesses which could prove Fayne was the pilot.
“They certainly have a gaping hole in their case,” Ferguson said, referring to a pilot’s log containing Fayne’s name and other items tied to the defendant were inside the aircraft. “That doesn’t mean he was in there when the crime was committed.”
Assistant District Attorney Steven Lilley said that witnesses had connected Fayne as being with the Cherokee 140 aircraft when it stopped in Flagstaff Ariz. and had testified that Fayne was a “tie-down tenant” the Madera Municipal Airport in Madera. Fayne was also known as the only man who ever flew the plane.
Lilley admitted it was a complicated case, involving more than 50 exhibits of evidence and 20 witnesses, but he urged the jury to consider the “totality of circumstances” when considering its verdict.
“All of the evidence and all of the testimony points in one direction ... Darin William Fayne is guilty of this offense,” Lilley said.
But Ferguson noted testimony during the trial pointed to a second person being on the aircraft, and argued that Fayne could well have gotten off the plane when it landed in Clovis, N.M., its last stop before Greenville.
“Have you seen anyone testify that Darin Fayne was in that plane in Texas airspace?” Ferguson asked.
No other alleged suspects have been arrested or charged in connection with the case.
Hunt County District Attorney Noble D. Walker Jr. released a statement, indicating his office was disappointed with the verdict, but understood the jury’s decision.
“This proved to be an extremely difficult case in regards to proving the identity of the individual or individuals who were in the plane and responsible for the possession of marihuana,” Walker said, thanking Lilley and Hunt County Sheriff Tommy Grandfield for their efforts.
Ferguson said she and Fayne thanked the jury for its deliberation and not guilty verdict.
“He has maintained his innocence since the beginning and it feels good to be vindicated,” Ferguson said.