MANKATO — A Mankato man who sat in jail for weeks awaiting trial for possessing a large amount of powder amphetamine was released recently after the charges were dismissed.

It turns out his story about the powder actually being vitamins was true.

Joseph Ray Burrell, 31, said he isn't happy that it took as long as it did for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab's findings to be processed. He said evidence records show about a month passed before prosecutors sent the powder in to be tested and more than a month passed after that before the results were returned.

In the meantime, Burrell sat in jail waiting to go to trial for two felony counts each of third- and fifth-degree drug possession. He was released after the charges were dismissed Feb. 4. His trial was scheduled to start the following day.

"I had been sitting in the jail since November with my bail set at $250,000," Burrell said. "Then, two days before trial, they dropped the charges and let me go."

Chris Rovney, assistant Blue Earth County attorney, said an initial field test of a bag of powder found in a car Burrell was driving on Nov. 14 tested positive for amphetamine. A more expensive and more accurate test completed by the BCA showed the powder did not contain anything illegal, so the charges were dismissed, he said.

A Mankato police officer stopped Burrell in the parking lot of the Riverfront Drive Hy-Vee grocery because he was driving out of the lot without his lights on. There was a warrant for his arrest for failing to appear in St. Louis County District Court for a charge of fleeing an officer on foot.

The car was searched and the officer reported finding a plastic bag containing a half ounce of crystal shards. The initial field test said the shards contained amphetamine, according to the criminal complaint that was filed.

Burrell, who admits he has used drugs in the past, said he had just finished in-patient treatment at New Beginnings before he was stopped in Mankato. New Beginnings is a drug treatment center near the small town of Waverly west of the the Twin Cities.

The vitamins had been prescribed to treat a sore shoulder Burrell had at the time, he said.

"I told the judge I couldn't plead guilty to something I knew wasn't a drug," Burrell said about a plea offer he received. "They set my bail at $250,000 for vitamins."

Burrell is still facing drug charges accusing him of selling methamphetamine in Mankato and possessing a large amount of methamphetamine in Le Sueur County. The charges in both those cases also are being challenged.

There is no evidence linking him to the sales charge except for the statement of a witness who also is a suspected drug dealer. That same person is involved in the Le Sueur County case. The bag containing the methamphetamine in that case has that person's fingerprints on it but no prints from Burrell, he said.

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Public safety, courts and general assignment reporter.