Hours before a new law took effect making it legal to possess up to an ounce of pot in the state, a Kennewick man pleaded guilty in Benton County Superior Court to a misdemeanor charge of possessing marijuana.
"This may be the last misdemeanor marijuana case we ever have," said Judge Craig Matheson.
Jerry Lee Lindenburger, 60, took a plea deal Wednesday offered by prosecutors to admit to possessing less than 40 grams of marijuana. He had been charged with manufacturing, delivery or possessing with intent to manufacture or deliver after he was arrested by Benton County sheriff's detectives who spotted him frequenting a grow site near Plymouth.
Detectives said Lindenburger admitted to harvesting the marijuana but denied having more than 15 plants. Deputies removed 30 plants from the area.
Last month, however, a judge ruled that statements Lindenburger made to investigators could not be used in trial because Lindenburger twice invoked his right to remain silent and also asked for an attorney, court documents said.
Defense attorney Randy Jameson said that even after winning the suppression motion, Lindenburger still decided to take the offer because he didn't want to risk going to trial.
"He decided to take the plea offer for simple possession, which as of midnight tonight, would be interesting for him to take," Jameson said, referring to the new marijuana possession law approved by voters last month.
Lindenburger also has since obtained medical authorization to have marijuana, Jameson said.
Prosecutors agreed to reduce the charge to the misdemeanor offense because Lindenburger had no criminal history and because his statements to police were suppressed, documents said.
Judge Craig Matheson agreed to follow the recommendation, imposing a 90-day sentence but suspended 89 days and giving Lindenburger credit for the one day he spent in jail.
Matheson also agreed to make it a deferred sentence, which means if Lindenburger pays all fines and court costs and stays out of trouble, the case will be dismissed in a year.
Man pleads innocent to injuring ex-police officer
A 32-year-old Warden man pleaded innocent Wednesday to biting and scratching a former police officer who tried to help Walmart employees stop him for allegedly shoplifting.
Ronald Larry Umland Jr. is charged in Benton County Superior Court with possession of heroin, fourth-degree assault and resisting arrest. His trial was set for Jan. 22.
Umland was arrested Nov. 29 by Kennewick police.
According to court documents, Jon Ladines and his wife were at the Kennewick Walmart when Ladines spotted Umland acting suspiciously, then later saw him walk out of the store with a TV in his cart.
Ladines is a former Richland police officer.
Store employees ran after Umland, and Ladines reportedly helped detain Umland as he struggled with them.
Once in the store security office, Umland kicked and threw items, grabbed a pair of scissors and continued to try to fight while holding the scissors, documents said.
He eventually dropped the scissors, but allegedly bit and scratched Ladines.
When Kennewick police arrived at the store, Umland continued to try to resist arrest and was shocked with a Taser, documents said.
Once he was in custody, officers found a box cutter in the seam of his jacket pocket and a small bag with black sticky material suspected to be heroin in the front pocket of his jeans, documents said.
Officers also noticed a bite mark on Ladines' left forearm and scratches, documents said.
Kennewick man pleads guilty in eluding case
A 20-year-old Kennewick man was sentenced to 10 days in jail after admitting he sped away from a Benton County sheriff's deputy who tried to pull him over.
Francisco J. Mendoza Sanchez pleaded guilty Wednesday in Benton County Superior Court to attempting to elude a pursing police vehicle. He has a week to report to the Benton County jail and can complete his time on work crew or work release.
Mendoza Sanchez was arrested Sept. 3 after a deputy spotted him speeding on Perkins Road in Finley, court documents said. He was estimated to be going 55 to 65 mph in a 35 mph zone, then sped up when the deputy activated his lights and tried to stop him.
He passed several vehicles by crossing the double yellow line and reached speeds of more than 80 mph, documents said.
Mendoza Sanchez crossed the cable bridge into Franklin County and was stopped several minutes later by Pasco police. He told officers he didn't stop because he had a suspended license and knew he would go to jail, documents said.
Defense attorney Scott Johnson told Judge Craig Matheson that this was a "tough case" because Mendoza Sanchez now is facing immigration consequences over a bad decision.
"He's doing real well in school, has a family and is in a real stable environment," Johnson said. "He got scared and ran. ... And they just won't reduce it (from a felony offense) because of some bad driving history."
Mendoza Sanchez's prior convictions include two counts of second-degree driving with a suspended license, one count of first-degree negligent driving and two counts of possession of marijuana under 40 grams.
Judge Matheson agreed to follow the agreed recommendation, but told Mendoza Sanchez that he needs to find a way to follow the rules and stay out of trouble.
"You need a change of attitude," he said. "You've got too many tickets and too many problems. You're going to get yourself deported, and you may have already done that. That's a shame over just minor things."
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org