When brother and sister David and Natalie DePriest got busted last October for growing 17 marijuana plants in their Farmington home, they told police that there was no reason they should be arrested. After all, weed will soon be legal everywhere. Also, they supported Ron Paul.
But that argument didn't fly with the police, so they were arrested. And after a trial in which the DePriests were found guilty on charges of marijuana cultivation and trafficking, their statements to police were brought up again and Judge Kenneth Pratte took them into consideration. These were people who clearly believed they did nothing wrong and had no respect for Missouri law.
David DePriest,34, who also had an illegal gun, was sentenced to 22 years. His sister Natalie, 36, was given 15 years. David's only prior crime was in 1999, when he got a misdemeanor drug charge while serving in the military, for which he was dishonorably discharged. Natalie's only prior crime was writing a bad check.
The lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent, first-time offenders will surprise many. Even more surprising is that the DePriests gave up a chance to get only four months in jail and a few years of probation.
"There were multiple offers made that would have had them released in 120 days," Jerrod Mahurin, the St. Francois County prosecutor, tells Daily RFT. "But they felt that marijuana should not be illegal and will be legal soon, so they refused. I don't know if it will ever be legal in Missouri, but in this case I have to follow the law."
The Depriests' attorney, Dan Viets, who is also one of Missouri's top marijuana reform activists who heads the state's NORML committee and is chairman of Show-Me Cannabis, says his clients believed they could be let off with just probation and no prison time if they turned down the plea deal and took their chances with the judge.
"That's what they chose to do," he says.
The DePriests made the gamble despite Mahurin promising to seek the maximum sentence if they had to go to argue for a sentence in front of the judge. And if he had to do that, other evidence would be brought in, such as the bulletproof vest and ledgers with numbers that looked like marijuana sales. Those objects weren't illegal, but could serve as evidence, he warned, and wouldn't do the DePriests any favors.
The gamble didn't pay off: after both sides presented their case, with Viets asking for probation for his clients and Mahurin asking for more than 30 years behind bars, Judge Pratte ruled with little sympathy.
Click on the next page to read more about the DePriests' botanical crimes...
The DePriests' refusal to accept responsibility, their disregard for Missouri law, and their support for Ron Paul's beliefs on drug policy made Pratte believe that a slap on the wrist wouldn't exactly teach these criminal gardeners a lesson, so he threw the book at them.
The DePriests' reasoning, according to Viets, was that they really didn't have very much pot. Although Mahurin has said he believes 17 plants is indicative of a large-scale operation, the experts at The Weed Blog say that number of plants can produce as little as 1.3 ounces or as many as 5 ounces per plant, depending on the amount of light being used.
So depending on the DePriests' gardening skills, their plants could only produce between approximately 1 and 5 pounds, which isn't exactly kingpin territory. And in Colorado, where households are allowed up to 12 plants, the Depriests would have faced only 1-3 years in prison for exceeding the limit.
But this ain't Colorado. This is Missouri -- and Missouri doesn't play.
Nonetheless, there is a very small, almost miniscule chance that the DePriests still get off with probation. Under Missouri law, a sentencing judge can release a convicted prisoner on probation before 120 days. Those 120 days will be up April 1 for David and April 3 for Natalie.
"I've sent [Judge Kenneth Pratte] a letter and hundreds of signatures asking for their release," Viets says. "Pratte hasn't responded, but he got the letter."
Although it might seem like the DePriests made a huge mistake by trying to challenge the system, but there's still the question: why so many years?
"I think the judge sentenced them knowing they would be out a lot sooner than what the sentence indicates," Mahurin says. "Natalie will be out in two to three years because it's her first offense."
David might not be so lucky.
Says Mahurin: "If I had to guess, he might be out in maybe seven years."
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