AUGUSTA — A Kennebec County jury cleared a Massachusetts man of a heroin-trafficking charge Thursday a couple of hours after a judge acquitted him of a more serious charge of aggravated trafficking stemming from the same incident in Winthrop.

Cornell Collins, 45, of Webster, Mass., was acquitted by the jury at the end of the second day of a two-day trial in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Under questioning by the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Joelle Pratt, the first witness at the trial, Kennebec Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Galen Estes, testified that he followed a confidential informant, Zachari Whittier, in February to a location on Henry Lane in Winthrop, where Whittier bought bags of heroin.

Whittier had been wearing a wire that recorded conversations in those purchases, but the recordings were full of static or masked by music, Estes testified.

He said the department had provided money to buy the drugs — $200 on Feb. 21, 2014, and $1,000 a week later — plus $40 for gas.

Estes testified that on the second occasion, Whittier had 10 grams of heroin on him when he returned from the same location on Henry Lane.

However, on Thursday when the jury was out of the courtroom, Justice Daniel Billings acquitted Collins on the aggravated-trafficking charge, saying the state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the quantity of heroin topped 6 grams, an essential element of the aggravated-trafficking charge.

At the same time, Billings also said that Whittier, who had been represented by a court-appointed attorney, would have to pay that attorney’s costs since Whittier had failed to indicate in a financial affidavit he filed with the court that he owned some real estate.

Collins’ defense attorney, Darrick Banda, said afterward he believed Collins was cleared because of Whittier’s testimony.

“The so-called informant’s testimony was incredible and didn’t match the other evidence in the case,” Banda said. “His version of events didn’t match. The things that you could hear (on the recording) didn’t match what Whittier said happened.”

Whittier himself has been indicted on three drug charges: aggravated trafficking in heroin, unlawful possession of heroin and criminal forfeiture of $757 cash, all based on events on Feb. 11, 2014, in Sidney.

Collins did not testify during the trial. He had been arrested in Massachusetts after the Nov. 14, 2014, indictment charging him with aggravated trafficking in heroin on or about March 5, 2014, in Winthrop. A judge in Massachusetts released him with an order to self-report to Maine, which Collins did, Banda said.

Collins has been free on bail while the charge was pending.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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