In a unanimous decision, an Indiana Court of Appeals panel affirmed Lola Sells’ convictions in Franklin County for dealing in methamphetamine and conspiracy, Prosecutor Chris Huerkamp recently announced.
Sells was convicted by a Franklin County jury in August 2018. At trial, the state was represented by then-Prosecutor Mel Wilhelm and Deputy Prosecutor Molly Brier.
The evidence revealed that Aug. 25, 2014, after procuring a large quantity of meth in Indianapolis, Sells brought it back to her Morris residence and made plans with co-conspirators to distribute it further. She arranged for over 7 grams of it to be taken to a man in Rushville using his girlfriend, Felecia Craig, 24, North Vernon, as a courier.
Late that evening, Craig arrived at Sells’ residence and was given the meth for delivery. As Craig headed from Morris toward Rushville, she was pulled over on westbound I-74 for a minor infraction. Her boyfriend, who was on the phone with her at the time, testified that Craig panicked and swallowed the baggie of meth as the officer approached her vehicle. The traffic stop resulted in only a warning ticket, but Craig began experiencing the effects from ingesting the meth almost immediately.
Huerkamp reported, “She made it only to the New Point Truck Stop, at the next exit, where she parked the car at around 1 a.m. Her dead body was discovered in the vehicle the next day by a man on his way home from work,” who immediately reported it to authorities. While the initial investigation revealed no signs of foul play, a toxicology test revealed a staggering amount of meth in her bloodstream, and Craig’s cause of death was ruled as an overdose.
Charges were originally filed in June 2015 following a months-long investigation that was spearheaded by Indiana State Police Detective Tim Wuestefeld. Sells failed to appear for trial in July 2016, and was a fugitive for over a year until she was arrested in Indianapolis for additional charges. Once those had been resolved, Sells was transported to Franklin County to face trial.
As a result of the guilty verdict, Franklin Circuit Court Judge J. Steven Cox, who presided over the trial, sentenced Sells to a 20-year aggregate term of incarceration, the maximum under Indiana law. The defendant’s appeal followed.
On appeal, Sells challenged her conviction on grounds involving double jeopardy, improper argument and improper venue. In a 3-0 decision, the state Court of Appeals wholly rejected her claims and sustained Sells’ convictions and sentence.
“I am obviously very pleased with the Court of Appeals decision,” said the prosecutor. “The conviction in this case was hard-earned, the sentence was well-deserved and it took an amazing effort on the part of Detective Wuestefeld and Mr. Wilhelm to ensure that the perpetrator was held accountable. The complexity of the case required extra attention to ensure that the evidence at trial was presented according to the rules. In upholding the conviction, the Court of Appeals has validated those efforts.”
According to Huerkamp, Sells can now appeal the appellate court’s decision to the Indiana Supreme Court, which may or may not agree to further review the case. He added that recent changes in the law (not on the books in 2014, when this occurred) would now permit the prosecution to charge a similar fact pattern as a Level 1 felony, which carries a maximum 40-year sentence upon conviction.
Sells’ criminal activity in Franklin County was not limited to this case. In February 2019, she pleaded guilty to unrelated charges relating to a multistate meth distribution network and was sentenced by Cox to an additional 14-16 years in the Indiana Department of Correction. According to the IDOC website, Sells’ earliest possible release date is Oct. 20, 2045.