Pot case jurors call for new trial

February 04, 2003

By Claire Cooper -- Bee Legal Affairs Writer,

SAN FRANCISCO -- Seven jurors who convicted a prominent medical marijuana activist called for a new trial Tuesday, rebelling against what they said was a misleading case and intimidating atmosphere. At an unusual rally outside the federal courthouse here, several jurors, defiant and shaken, expressed solidarity with defendant Edward Rosenthal four days after convicting him of running a massive pot-growing operation in West Oakland. Rosenthal is the author of a dozen books about marijuana and a how-to column for pot magazines. He was a major supplier for medical pot dispensaries in the Bay Area. However, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer barred all evidence of medical use at the trial. Smiling and unbowed, Rosenthal appeared at the noon rally to embrace jurors following a hearing at which the government's motion to take him into custody was denied for the immediate future. He remains free on $200,000 bond. The judge said he may keep Rosenthal out of prison permanently because his case is unusual. "Both the jury and I were victims of vicious persecution," Rosenthal said at the rally. The jurors said they began having misgivings as soon as they disbanded Friday. One bit of missing information -- that Rosenthal had been deputized by Oakland to supply that city's pot program -- would have forced them to acquit, they said. "It was a nightmare for us once we realized what we had done here," said juror Marney Craig. The Novato property manager said the jurors didn't know if there could be legal reprisals for their protest. But she added, "At this time I don't really care. ... I feel we were sheep. We were manipulated and controlled." Craig released a joint statement urging a retrial on behalf of five jurors, one alternate and, she said, two or three additional jurors who could not appear. Charles Sackett, the jury foreman, read an apology to Rosenthal "for having participated in so unfair a court trial." "I truly do not know if writing you this letter is a contempt of court," the Sebastopol landscape contractor told the defendant, who hugged him. "If it is, perhaps we can share a cell." In urging Breyer to order Rosenthal into custody earlier Tuesday, prosecutor George Bevan said Proposition 215, the 1996 initiative that made marijuana legal under state law for seriously ill patients and caregivers, made no provision for large-scale suppliers. "The only thing that's exceptional about this case is how it's being portrayed by the defense," he said. Breyer, however, said the case may fall outside federal sentencing guidelines, which prescribe a prison term of at least five years. Sentencing has been set for June. A defense motion for a new trial probably will be heard in April or May. With the jurors watching from the front row of his court's spectator section, Breyer said Rosenthal's claim of immunity from prosecution as a city official wasn't frivolous and had not yet been ruled on by the appellate courts.

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