Drug, theft trial ends with conviction on 11 counts

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WALLA WALLA — A man has been convicted of possessing dozens of items of stolen property in December, as well as committing various drug offenses.

Richard E. Cornwell Jr., 37, was found guilty Thursday of 11 crimes, including delivering methamphetamine, possessing four controlled substances with the intent to deliver, using drug paraphernalia, second-degree possessing stolen property, first-degree trafficking in stolen property, possessing a sawed-off shotgun and two counts of possessing a stolen firearm.

The drug delivery and possession offenses occurred within 1,000 feet of the perimeter of a school grounds, the Superior Court jury found following testimony in the trial that began Monday. The nine-woman, three-man panel deliberated a total of about two hours Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning before reaching its unanimous verdicts.

Cornwell faces 10 years in prison under standard-range sentencing law. But Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gabriel Acosta might seek an exceptionally long sentence because of the multitude of offenses.

Acosta said in an interview he hasn’t decided for how much additional time he might ask. Sentencing will be held later.

Law enforcement served a search warrant Dec. 12 at Cornwell’s then-residence at 520 S. Third Ave. because he reportedly had sold methamphetamine to a confidential informant the previous week.

Detectives found a safe in the master bedroom in the basement. The safe contained heroin, methamphetamine, hydrocodone pills and methadone — packaged separately for sale — and more than $1,100, according to officials.

Authorities also reportedly found hundreds of items stolen during numerous burglaries in and around the Walla Walla Valley. However, testimony at the trial focused on a smaller number amounting to dozens of items.

The property, which was returned to victims, included a large number of tools. Two stolen firearms also were found.

Cornwell’s attorney, Richard Wernette, told the jury at the opening of the trial that Cornwell cooperated with police at the beginning of the investigation. Cornwell tried to identify where he obtained the items at his residence, Wernette said. And he told the panel the prosecution would have to prove his client knew the property was stolen.

Wernette also said Cornwell has acknowledged having had a drug-use problem, but didn’t admit to intending to deliver controlled substances. Wernette also tried to cast doubt on the credibility of the informant.

Cornwell had not been in custody pending the outcome of his trial, but Judge John Lohrmann ordered him to jail after the verdicts were announced Thursday morning.

As Cornwell was being led from the courtroom, he reportedly bolted, but was apprehended by authorities in the hallway.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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