Schammel pleads guilty

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 30, 2003

The on-again, off-again trial of Jamie Chris Lee Schammel, 22 of Austin, is off again -- and for good.

Schammel entered a plea of guilty to a third-degree murder charge Wednesday afternoon. If District Judge Fred W. Wellmann accepts the plea, Schammel will be sentenced to 9 years and 7 months in prison.

"The charges that were dismissed would not have added any additional time to the sentence," said Steven L. Sleicher, Assistant Minnesota Attorney General.

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Four counts of first-degree controlled substance crimes and four counts of second- and third-degree controlled substance crimes dating back to August 2000 will be dismissed against Schammel.

Wellmann will sentence Schammel on March 13.

The trial has been plagued with twists since it began a week ago.

On Wednesday, a second juror was dismissed. This one, a man, who caused the trial proceedings to be delayed on three occasions, because, he told the judge, he overslept.

On Tuesday, the first juror, a woman, was dismissed after informing the court her husband violated court orders despite her protestations.

Mower County Attorney Patrick W. Flanagan said formal jury tampering charges will be filed against the man.

That left the jury with no alternates for the duration of the trial.

The trial was also beset by almost-constant sidebars between the judge and the attorneys over procedural matters. This caused several delays.

On Tuesday, it was revealed the prosecution used a confidential informant as a witness. The informant, it was revealed in court,

had been charged with controlled substance crimes with the defendant in 2000. In exchange for her testimony, all the charges were dismissed.

As the trial staggered to its impromptu conclusion Wednesday, the plea negotiations took up over two hours before they were announced.

Schammel was charged in connection with the Jan. 13, 2001 flash fire and explosion at the James Chilson and Sandra Jean Johnson residence in southwest Austin. Chilson, 42, died of severe burn injuries six weeks after being injured in the fire and explosion two years ago.

Troy Meyer, 26 of Austin, also negotiated a plea agreement with prosecution and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the death of Chilson.

Prosecutors described Meyer as the "cooker" along with Chilson of the methamphetamine and said Schammel had a lesser role in the activities.

Before Wellmann accepted the plea, he queried defense attorney Ross Leuning, Sleicher and Flanagan, as well as Schammel.

Schammel testified he was at the Chilson and Johnson residence at 2 a.m. Jan. 13, 2001, while Meyer and Chilson were manufacturing methamphetamine. Schammel's duties that night were to act as a lookout.

Afterwards, Flanagan confirmed that Amy Lemoine, who was revealed to be a confidential informant, will not be charged.

Flanagan said both the investigation and the prosecution of Meyer and Flanagan show how local law enforcement has been "pretty hard on" the drug community.

"I think this case sends a message to the community that if you endanger other people's lives with methamphetamine, we're going to go after you," Flanagan said.

Testimony helps

The prosecution's case was bolstered substantially Wednesday morning by the testimony of Rich Kleis, a Minnesota State Fire Marshal. Kleis and Fire Marshall Steve Wolf investigated the fire and explosion events at the request of the Austin Fire Department and provided proof of other materials used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Flanagan credited one of the last witnesses to testify, Austin Police Sgt. Mark Haider, with saving Schammel's life.

The police sergeant went to the home of an acquaintance of Schammel after the Jan. 13, 2001, explosion and found the suspect and forced him to go to the Austin Medical Center for treatment of serious burn injuries.

Flanagan credited Austin police with acting as "first responders" to the victims of the fire and explosion as well as investigators of the crimes.

Schammel, who was arrested early last Saturday morning for driving while impaired and for testing positive for the presence of methamphetamine in his body, was returned to the Mower County Jail.