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Spokane, WA -- Just one week after three medical marijuana patients were acquitted by a federal jury of all but one charge stemming from the widely watched Kettle Falls Five trial, US District Court Judge Thomas Rice rejected attempts by the Justice Department (DOJ) to imprison the defendants pending sentencing on June 10th. Judge Rice's ruling comes just a day after defense attorneys filed their opposition to the government's pre-sentencing detention effort.
The DOJ remains aggressive in its attempts to lock up the three family members, filing an emergency request for detention just one day after the jury reached its verdict. Apparently unsatisfied with a hearing on April 3rd, more than two months before the defendants' sentencing date, US Attorney Michael Ormsby filed a motion to expedite the detention hearing. Judge Rice granted the DOJ's request for an expedited hearing, then promptly denied the government's motion to imprison defendants Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56, her son Rolland Gregg, 33, and daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg, 36, who remain free until sentencing on June 10th at 10am.
"Instead of reevaluating its approach after failing to convict on almost all charges, the DOJ doubled down and tried to imprison the remaining three Kettle Falls Five defendants as they await sentencing," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "The DOJ appears unwilling to reverse course after being told by Congress to curtail its medical marijuana enforcement efforts, and sees no problem spending millions of taxpayer dollars to do so."
In an unexpected verdict, a jury from eastern Washington State acquitted the three Kettle Falls Five defendants of all but one charge of manufacturing on a lesser-included charge of under 100 marijuana plants, which does not carry a mandatory minimum sentence. In a prosecution that lasted more than two years and used up over $2 million in resources, including a week-long trial, the DOJ aggressively pursued drug trafficking charges against a family of medical marijuana patients who were growing for themselves in full compliance with Washington State law.
Before the trial even began, the federal government agreed to dismiss charges against Larry Harvey, 71, the husband of Firestack-Harvey who was recently diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Co-defendant and family friend Jason Zucker, 39, took a plea deal one day before trial began and agreed to testify for the government against the three remaining defendants in exchange for a felony conspiracy conviction and a recommended sentence of 16 months. Zucker will be sentenced on June 17th at 9am.
In August 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the Harvey property in rural Washington State near the town of Kettle Falls and seized 68 marijuana plants, charging the five defendants with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, manufacture and distribution of marijuana, maintaining a drug-involved premises, and possession of firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
Because the Kettle Falls Five defendants were acquitted of all charges that carry a mandatory minimum sentence, they could receive less than a year in prison or possibly probation. If sentenced to prison time, however, Firestack-Harvey will no longer be able to care for her ailing husband whose cancer has spread to his liver. "If Rhonda goes to prison, I don't know who will take care of me," said Larry Harvey.
Federal Judge Thomas Rice decision denying DOJ effort to imprison Kettle Falls Five defendants as they await sentencing
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