By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
SPOKANE, Wash. — Three people were found guilty Tuesday of growing marijuana, but they also were exonerated of more serious charges in a widely-watched federal drug case in a state where medical and recreational marijuana is legal.
The three remaining defendants of the so-called Kettle Falls Five were all found guilty of growing marijuana. But a jury found them not guilty of distributing marijuana, conspiracy to distribute and firearms charges that carried long prison sentences.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice set sentencing for June 10.
The defendants were Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, her son Rolland Gregg and his wife, Michelle Gregg.
Firestack-Harvey wiped away tears as she declared victory in the case.
“The truth comes out,” she said, noting that the defendants were growing marijuana for medical purposes and had cards permitting that use. “We would have loved to be exonerated of all charges.”
However, there was no doubt that federal drug agents found marijuana plants growing on their property near Kettle Falls, she said.
Federal prosecutors did not speak with reporters after the verdict, which followed a full day of deliberations by the jury.
Prosecutors asked that the three be taken into custody until sentencing, but Rice declined.
“It’s a victory, but it’s bittersweet,” said Jeff Niesen, an attorney for Firestack-Harvey. “They’ve been convicted of a federal crime.”
But while the tougher charges carried sentences of a decade in prison, growing marijuana should bring a much lower sentence, Niesen said.
On Monday, attorneys for the defendants asked jurors to throw out what he described as an overzealous and overreaching case.
Attorney Phil Tefleyan criticized the government’s prosecution of the three, who contend they were growing medical marijuana for personal use in a case that has drawn wide attention over the government’s willingness to prosecute marijuana growers.
“They roped in this innocent family,” Tefleyan told jurors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks told jurors Monday that Washington 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. That issue can be raised during sentencing.
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, 4 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. Zucker’s plea deal called for a 16-month sentence.
Zucker testified that the marijuana cultivation began on property owned by Larry Harvey in early 2011. Zucker said he was approached by Harvey’s son, Rolland Gregg, in Seattle to set up a marijuana plot 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.