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A year after police find 4-year-old in Tilton meth lab, defendants to plead guilty

When Tilton police Detective Nate Buffington led a search team into a Laconia Road home a year ago, the police found a meth lab about to explode as a 4-year-old boy sat near it, with his mother and grandmother also in the house, according to court records.

The family had been living together at 262 Laconia Road, and the police moved in after watching the place for several months.

In the coming weeks, the case is expected to resolve without a trial – and possibly with mother and son reunited.

One of the defendants, James Joyce of Tilton, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine in September and was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison. Joyce had faced five to 40 years, and got the lengthy sentence he did, in part, because the drug operation put a child in danger, according to court records.

The boy was not injured, but state child-care workers investigated and temporarily removed the child from his mother’s care, according to court records.

Federal prosecutor Jennifer Davis declined yesterday to comment on charges against the remaining four defendants because their cases are not yet resolved. But federal court records indicate where those cases are headed.

On Friday, the boy’s grandmother, Marie Chacon of Tilton, and another defendant, Hon Luu, are scheduled to plead guilty to one charge each of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. They each face five to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1 million. But in exchange for their guilty pleas, prosecutors will seek a three-year sentence for Luu and something close to the “low end” of the range for Chacon, court records said.

On Monday, the boy’s mother, Debra Miller, and Chacon’s boyfriend, Michael Caissie, are scheduled to plead guilty to the same charge and could each face the same lengthy sentence. Their sentencing dates have not been set.

Court records do not indicate what kind of sentence Caissie is negotiating. Prosecutors have agreed to seek the “low end” of the sentencing range for Miller in exchange for her plea. But Miller’s attorney, Jonathan Cohen of Concord, has asked the court to let Miller serve her time at home, under supervision, instead of in prison.

In his court pleading, Cohen cited Miller’s successful efforts to remain sober, find work and become a better parent. After completing a parenting course, Miller was reunited with her son in July and granted full custody of her son in November, according to court records.

Miller “has worked tirelessly to demonstrate to this court and the government that she is a changed woman worthy of mercy,” Cohen wrote. “Ms. Miller is a woman of limited means, but she has utilized every tool available to her to improve herself for the good of her child and she desperately pleads with this court not to tear them apart.”

In his pleading, Cohen describes Miller’s prior marriages and relationships as emotionally abusive. One husband was addicted to methamphetamine, Cohen said. She too abused substances and, as a result, lost custody of a daughter born in Colorado. Miller’s drug use prompted her to deliver the child prematurely, Cohen wrote. The girl now lives with her adoptive parents.

Miller became involved with Chacon’s son in Colorado and the two had a son. Two weeks after the boy was born, Chacon’s son was arrested and charged with molesting another child, Cohen wrote.

Miller was living in a hotel and had no job in 2009 when Chacon invited her and her son to live with her in Tilton, in the house the police say became a meth lab, according to court records. Miller could not find a steady job. She was denied state assistance for housing because she had a prior drug conviction, according to court records.

Miller “felt trapped and depressed,” Cohen wrote. “She was working doing temporary jobs, but could not afford to get a place of her own for (her son).” Cohen continued: “This was the situation she was in when she made the self-destructive decision to relapse.”

Miller resumed using methamphetamine and purchased cold medicine for the production of methamphetamine, according to court records. “She is . . . responsible for exposing (her son) to the dangers in that house,” Cohen wrote. “She deeply regrets her decisions.”

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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