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Guilty verdict in forgery trial

WORTHINGTON -- After three hours of deliberation, two consultations with the judge and one instance of being sent back into the jury room to fetch the correct form, a jury in Nobles County District Court rendered guilty verdicts on both counts against Pamela Elizabeth Carey, 42, of Sioux Falls, S.D.

While living in Nobles County in December 2009, Carey was charged with aggravated forgery -- uttering or possessing and fifth-degree controlled substance possession -- procure by fraud.

According to the criminal complaint and testimony heard Wednesday, Carey was prescribed Lortab, a hydrocodone/acetaminophen painkiller. The prescription was for 5 milligrams of hydrocodone, according to the doctor, but when Carey turned it in to a pharmacy in Worthington, the milligram amount had been written over with the number 10.

Carey did not testify on her own behalf, but the pharmacy clerk said on the stand that Carey had stated upon handing over the prescription that a mistake had been made on the document. The clerk turned the prescription over to the pharmacist, who contacted Carey's doctor. The physician's assistant, Timothy Soelter, told the pharmacist the prescription had been written for 5 milligrams and advised her to call authorities.

Worthington Police Officer Brett Wiltrout testified that he arrested Carey and brought her to the law enforcement center for questioning. In an interview played for the jury, Carey said she didn't change the prescription, but could not say who had changed the number.

"The nurse handed it to me just like this," she stated on the audio recording.

According to Wiltrout, her story changed several times as to when she noticed the change. She said the nurse changed it in front of her, then said she noticed it while traveling back from the doctor's office in Fairmont.

Nurse Lori Hartmann testified she was the one who wrote the prescription, then had the doctor sign the form. Kept on file and eventually used in court as evidence was a carbon copy of the prescription, with the prescribed 5 milligrams.

If a mistake had been made and corrected as Carey suggested, Hartmann said, the prescription would have been ripped up and a new one written out. Soelter's testimony also referred to that office policy.

Assistant County Attorney Kim Pehrson called six witnesses for the state's prosecution, and after resting her case, turned things over to public defender Terry Vajgrt, who rested his case without calling a single witness.

During closing arguments, Pehrson reminded the jury Carey was not being charged with forging the document, but of uttering or possessing it and handing it off to the pharmacy to get a higher dose of painkiller.

Vajgrt pounced on that same fact during his closing statement, telling the jury the prosecution was unsure where the prescription was changed -- Martin, Jackson or Nobles County.

"They don't know," he said. "That's why they aren't charging her with it."

Carey's demeanor during the one-day trial changed radically from moment to moment. She cried during Vajgrt's opening and closing statements, shook or nodded her head as she agreed or disagreed with testimony throughout the day, and at one point asked a bailiff during a recess who the people in the jury were. Vajgrt had described Carey's life as "not an easy go" during his opening statement. She had multiple medical problems stemming from a car accident in 1986 and was also bipolar, he stated.

He asked the jury to "consider very carefully -- do the work to understand the charges."

The jury was sent to deliberate at 3 p.m., then asked the judge at 4:30 p.m. to clarify "intent" in a legal sense. At 5:15 p.m., the jury sent the judge a note that stated, "We have reached a verdict on one charge but are unable to come to a unanimous decision on the uttering element charge."

The judge called the jury back to the courtroom and reminded them they had only deliberated for two hours. He asked them to return to the jury room and resume deliberation.

When the jury returned to the courtroom 45 minutes later, a verdict on both charges had been reached, but when the clerk began to read the first verdict out loud, the jury members realized the "not guilty" form had been filled out. They had to return once more to the jury room and complete the correct form.

"That is the first time in 25 years I've had that happen," Judge Jeffrey Flynn commented while waiting for the jury to return.

After the guilty verdict on both counts had been read, the judge thanked and dismissed the jury. He ordered a presentence investigation for Carey, who will be required to return for sentence. Her bond and conditions of release remain in effect until a sentence is rendered.