SPOKANE, Wash. — A civil rights attorney asked federal court jurors to throw out what he described as an overzealous and overreaching case seen as a sign of federal willingness to go after marijuana growers in a state where medical and recreational marijuana is legal.
Attorney Phil Tefleyan on Monday criticized the government’s prosecution of Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, Rolland Gregg and Michelle Gregg, who contend they were growing medical marijuana for personal use in a case that has drawn wide attention.
“They roped in this innocent family,” Tefleyan told jurors.
The case of the so-called Kettle Falls Five went to the jury Tuesday. The three defendants remaining in the case face drug and firearms charges that carry mandatory prison sentences of more than a decade.
The Spokesman-Review reported that Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks told jurors Monday the state’s stance on marijuana doesn’t matter. He says the question for the jury is: “Is it legal under federal law?”
The defendants contend they didn’t distribute the marijuana. But they were barred from telling jurors their claim that they grew the marijuana only for personal medical use.
Tefleyan said the government could not point to a single sale of the drug by the family. He said the evidence seized by drug enforcement agents during a raid in August 2012 — four pounds of marijuana and about $700 in cash — didn’t support the conclusion the family was dealing.
The government has argued the family grew the plants in violation of federal law.
“I don’t believe there’s any question in this case that we’re talking about the manufacture of marijuana,” Hicks told the jury.
Tefleyan placed blame for those plants on Jason Zucker, a former defendant who cut a plea deal last week, just before the trial started.
Zucker, 39, testified Friday that he fronted $10,000 in costs to get the operation up and running.
“Jason paid for everything,” Tefleyan said. “Jason ran the entire grow.”
The remaining defendants face charges of manufacturing more than 100 plants, which Tefleyan called “a real stretch.” Zucker testified he brought 75 flowering plants from his home in Seattle to the property twice, once in 2011 and once in 2012.
Tefleyan said the federal government was unfairly lumping those two grows together in calculating the charges against the family.
Zucker’s deal called for a 16-month sentence. He had faced a potential 20-year prison sentence if convicted by the jury.
Zucker’s testified that the marijuana grow began on property owned by Larry Harvey in the early months of 2011. Zucker said he was approached by Harvey’s son, Rolland Gregg, in Seattle to set up a grow on the 33-acre parcel about 9 miles north of Colville. Gregg’s wife, Michelle, and his mother, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, also participated in the operation, and the five evenly split their crop at the end of the year, Zucker testified.
Larry Harvey, 71, was recently dismissed from the case after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in December.
Information from: The Spokesman-Review