Originally Published: May 17, 2013 9:51 p.m.
PRESCOTT - One of two men arrested in July 2012 on weapon possession and drug charges after officers found marijuana in one man's pocket, meth in a backpack, and a handgun hidden behind a retaining wall outside a store, is considering a plea deal.
Justin Richard Nielsen, 31, of Chandler, is facing five counts, including two counts of weapons misconduct and one count each of shoplifting, possession of drug paraphernalia, and a dangerous drug-methamphetamine violation.
On July 8, an officer answered a call about an intoxicated man who dropped a handgun on the ground at a store in the 1200 block of Gail Gardner Way and saw Thomas Hall, 32, walking near the parking lot, according to a police report. Another officer found a fully loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun behind a retaining wall about 100 feet from Hall. Hall told the officer that Nielsen was in the store when his gun fell out of the holster, that Nielsen "freaked out" and asked Hall to take the gun, which Hall hid behind the retaining wall outside the store, the report said.
Officers searching a car the pair had been driving found a black backpack in the rear seat with nine used syringes with a brown residue inside, a prescription pill bottle with Nielsen's name on it, and a white plastic bag with 8.5 grams of a white crystal substance that tested positive for meth, according to the police report. Near the backpack was a lighter and a digital scale with a white crystal residue.
Earlier this week, Nielsen was in court to hear the possible sentences he could receive.
The offer made by the state would require him to plead guilty to one count of dangerous drug-methamphetamine for sale and one count of possession of a weapon during a drug offense.
Deputy County Attorney Kevin Schiff said Monday Nielsen would be sentenced to five years in prison for those offenses, flat-time, meaning no possibility of early release.
If, however, Nielsen opts for a jury trial and loses, Superior Court Judge Celé Hancock said, the possession of meth charge alone comes with a 24.5-year sentence.
Schiff said the plea was the same as one made in January, but he had a new detail for Nielsen: a woman he knew was actually a police informant and would testify that he said he was in Prescott specifically to "traffic methamphetamine."
Hall in October 2012 pleaded guilty to possession of a dangerous drug and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Schiff agreed to give Nielsen some time to think about the plea.