The strange case of Jennifer Skarie

Here’s an old drug war story courtesy of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California:

Jennifer Skarie lived on an isolated ranch with her three sons and several women she had taken in and cared for. She lived with her husband, Duane Skarie, until the fall of 1988. Her husband repeatedly threatened and abused her, and she had him arrested four times for spousal abuse. After the last arrest, the local sheriff told Jennifer Skarie to “quit harassing” the sheriff’s department and that they could not “babysit” her anymore. Skarie forced her husband out of the house in late 1988, although he returned periodically thereafter.

In the fall of 1988, a distant relative of Duane Skarie named John Byrd but known as “Little Bear” (hereinafter “Bear”) moved into Jennifer Skarie’s house. Bear was at all relevant times a paid government informant. After Bear moved in with Skarie, he began to make sexual advances towards her and towards the women living with her. Bear was a violent person who threatened people regularly and was usually armed, even in the house.

In January 1989, Skarie forced Bear out of her house because Bear had been using methamphetamines in the house, had encouraged the women living there (some of whom were recovering drug addicts) to use drugs, and had physically threatened her son. Bear reacted violently to being thrown out, and made a variety of threats against Jennifer Skarie.

In February 1989, Bear asked Skarie to put him in touch with some people who could sell him drugs. Skarie demurred. Bear continued to pressure her to introduce him to people she knew who sold drugs; he would call as often as ten times a day and would often come by Skarie’s house uninvited. Bear also made a variety of threats to Skarie and other members of the household. He impaled one of her chickens on a stick and left it outside her back door; he later stated that what had happened to the chicken could happen to people as well. He told Skarie that it would be easy to slit the throats of her horses, and threatened to kidnap her six-year old son “so that you will never see him again.”

Skarie finally agreed to meet with Bear’s friend (actually Narcotics Task Force Agent Buttitta) who said he was interested in buying ten pounds of methamphetamine. At this initial meeting, Buttitta showed her $70,000 in cash. The extent of Skarie’s participation in this and several subsequent meetings leading up to the sale of approximately three pounds of methamphetamine is disputed. Skarie did not show up at the next meeting set up by Bear, but did show up thereafter on several occasions. She also took Bear to meet McDonald, a friend of Skarie’s husband who had the methamphetamine for sale and who was initially a co-defendant in this case. On May 13, 1989, Bear took $80 to Skarie’s house and returned with small amounts of methamphetamine; the parties dispute whether Skarie sold those amounts to him or whether he had previously concealed the drugs on her 110-acre ranch.

On May 23, 1989, McDonald brought approximately three pounds of methamphetamine in his truck to Skarie’s house, where he showed it to Bear and Skarie in the front yard. McDonald and Skarie were promptly arrested, and both their houses were searched. McDonald’s house contained additional amounts of methamphetamine; no drugs were found on Skarie’s person or in her house.

Skarie was charged with possession of narcotics with intent to distribute (based on the drugs McDonald brought over in his car) and conspiracy to possess narcotics with intent to distribute (based on all the drugs found in McDonald’s car and home).

When Skarie’s charges went to trial, she argued correctly that they should be dropped on the grounds that she had been entrapped, but she was convicted nonetheless and sentenced to ten years in prison. Luckily, she was eventually able to get the charges dropped by appealing them. The court she appealed to noted that

[t]he government concedes that Bear initiated the idea of a drug transaction and repeated it several times. Skarie refused to participate for over two months in the face of repeated requests by the government, and relented only after the government’s agent made a number of graphic and violent threats against her and her family. Skarie’s testimony that she was induced in part by Bear’s threats was not contested at trial.

It is, of course, great that the charges were ultimately dropped, but words cannot do justice to the absurdity of the fact that Skarie was ever convicted in the first place. How anyone sitting on a jury could possibly listen to this story and conclude that Skarie ought to be imprisoned for ten years of her life is beyond my comprehension.

However, it shouldn’t really even matter that Skarie was entrapped — the jury should have found her not guilty even if she had sold the drugs of her own free will. While I have no problem with people arguing that meth is unhealthy, this does not change the fact that buying, selling, and using meth are all victimless actions. Even if meth truly is dangerous and even if it has been declared “illegal” by so-called “legislators,” there are no moral grounds for treating possession of meth as a crime. Individuals should be free to make their own decisions — even if they are poor ones — about what drugs to ingest just like they should be allowed to make their own decisions about what food to eat. If you ever find yourself on a jury for a case about methamphetamine or any other “illegal” drugs, I encourage you to practice jury nullification and acquit the defendant even if he or she is guilty.

You can find more information about Skarie’s case at the L.A. Times.


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