Smuggling trial ends in acquittal
A 32-month ordeal for Andrea Ernst is finally over.
“I can’t believe I am free,” said Ernst through tears in front of the Penticton courthouse on Wednesday after being found not guilty of trafficking and importing 10 bricks of cocaine across the Osoyoos border.
On April 8, 2009 Ernst, who is from Cherryville near Lumby, crossed the border by herself under the impression she was going to meet her ex-common law husband and their daughter for lunch in Lynnwood, Wash. She had been visiting family on Saltspring Island and her former husband, Andreas Artz, had convinced her to meet before she headed back to the Okanagan.
On Tuesday, Justice Paul Pearlman heard from Artz, who said he planted the drugs in the truck she was driving. Artz said he met Ernst in the parking lot of a Bed, Bath and Beyond and convinced her to hop in his car to meet their daughter for lunch. Once they were away from the truck, he called associates giving them the go-ahead to put the cocaine into a factory storage compartment under the back seats.
Artz agreed with defence counsel Robert Maxwell that he set up Ernst as an unwitting drug mule, exposing her to the risks of transporting drugs across the border. He also admitted he had held a grudge against Ernst, who had left him after a 20-year relationship for her horse trainer, who Artz called a “crack addict.” Artz said he had brought drugs across the border three to five times before, and expected a $5,000 payment for this shipment. Artz is protected under Canadian law from being charged with the evidence he gave as a witness in court.
On April 8, 2009, a Canadian Border Services officer in Osoyoos got a “red box” screen on her computer after scanning Ernst’s identification and licence plate. This was a notification to recommend Ernst for a secondary inspection looking for drugs. Under a pile of clothing, bags, blankets and a dog bed, officers uncovered the factory compartment and the 10 kilograms of drugs worth an estimated $788,480.
Justice Paul Pearlman said he was left with “residual doubt” that Ernst knowingly tried to transport the 10 kilograms of cocaine across the border.
Pearlman said while Ernst’s testimony was questionable and “troubling” in that she could not recall some details of that day and had lied to border officers about meeting Artz, other evidence outweighed that. In particular, Pearlman noted an incident in which Ernst was held at the border for 90 minutes while crossing into the U.S. after officers discovered a horse tranquilizer in her glove compartment.
“It is unlikely she would knowingly expose herself to further search on her return to Canada that evening,” said Pearlman.
After the judgment, Ernst said she was in a state of shock. The 53-year-old said she has lost over 100 pounds, become very ill, was scared for her life, has dealt with mental health issues and said she even attempted suicide.
After all she has been through she said she thinks of Artz as only the father of their child. Ernst said she feels strongly about becoming an advocate for women in trouble so “other women don’t have to go through this.”
Ernst plans on moving to Australia to be with family and write a book about falling in love with a drug addicted horse trainer.