Couple faces one less felony count at trial |

Couple faces one less felony count at trial

A couple charged with illegally growing marijuana in the yard of their West Slope home will face one less felony count when their case goes to trial next month.

Lisa Whitaker, 35, and her husband Keith, 33, residents of Garden Valley, Calif., are no longer charged with conspiracy of offering to furnish marijuana. They each remain charged with cultivation and offering to furnish the drug.

Erik Schlueter, deputy district attorney prosecuting the couple, said he decided to drop the charge because it “muddied” the case and wouldn’t mean additional punishment if a jury finds the Whitakers guilty.

If convicted, Lisa could be sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison. Keith could be sentenced to a maximum of four years and eight months.

The Whitakers are medical marijuana patients who grow the drug to treat themselves and others. Investigators found 40 pot plants growing on their property Sept. 12.

They each have a valid doctor recommendation that allows them to use and grow marijuana. Keith suffers with back pain. Lisa has stomach problems. The definition of a “caregiver” is expected to be a key issue at trial.

The 1996 Compassionate Use Act, passed by Proposition 215, authorized doctors to recommend marijuana to patients. It defines a “primary caregiver” as “the individual designated by the person … who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that person.”

In two hearings in El Dorado County Superior Court this week, Judge Jerald Lasarow ruled that two defense witnesses would be allowed to testify as marijuana experts and heard motions regarding testimony allowed at trial.

If needed, the judge set March 8 at 1:30 p.m. for more pretrial hearings. Jury selection is scheduled to begin March 12 or 13. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

The Whitaker case, which was being heard in Placerville, was transferred to South Lake Tahoe Jan. 28 because courts here are not so congested as those on the West Slope.

The couple’s trial was expected to begin last week, but jury selection and a number of pretrial motions took longer than anticipated. Lasarow postponed the trial and scrapped work done on the jury selection by declaring a mistrial.

This is not the first time the Whitakers have been to court. Keith was convicted of cultivating marijuana in July 1999. He was sentenced to five months in jail and placed on probation for three years.

In 2000, the Whitakers were tried for possession of marijuana for sales. They were found not guilty and 4.2 pounds of marijuana was returned to them.

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