A federal judge has indicated he may go against a plea deal and send two former Franklin County corrections officers to prison for trying to start a marijuana distribution business.
Kevin Still, 44, and Sonya Symons, 32, were scheduled to be sentenced last week in U.S. District Court in Richland.
But the hearing was postponed after Judge Edward Shea notified attorneys that he was considering incarcerating the former jailers.
The written plea agreements negotiated for the Pasco couple said federal prosecutors would recommend they serve two years of probation and no prison time.
Attorneys also agreed that under the probation conditions, Still also would spend four months on electronic home monitoring.
Judges don't have to accept the recommendations in a plea agreement and can sentence defendants to any time within the standard sentencing range.
Still, who pleaded guilty April 15 to attempting to possess marijuana with intent to distribute, has a sentencing range of six months to one year in federal prison.
Symons' range is up to six months in prison. She pleaded guilty to distributing marijuana.
Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana against both jailers in exchange for their pleas.
On July 2, Judge Shea sent an order to the attorneys saying he was considering a 30-day sentence for Symons and three months for Still.
Wednesday, Still's attorney, Todd Harms, asked the court to postpone the sentencing because he wanted to provide more information for Shea to consider, court documents said.
"I believe the Court should consider the impact of placing Kevin Still in a federal detention center given that he is a former corrections officer and this may cause risk of harm," Harms wrote in his motion.
Harms said continuing the sentencing would give him time to talk to the federal Bureau of Prisons to research placement options if his client is ordered to serve time in prison.
Symons' attorney and federal prosecutors also supported Harms' request.
Judge Shea agreed to continue the sentencing to Aug. 13.
Still was a corrections officer for 21 years before his arrest in October. Symons worked at the Franklin County jail for six years.
In documents filed before the sentencing was postponed, Still's attorney requested Shea follow the agreed recommendation, saying his client previously had not committed a crime, is a Marine veteran and was a youth hockey volunteer for 18 years.
Still was a caretaker, with his mother, for his father who recently passed away from cancer, has an 18-year-old son, and was helping support Symons and her son financially because Symons had legal expenses from a custody battle and medical bills, Harms wrote.
Symons and Still were living together when arrested.
"The circumstances surrounding Kevin Still became a perfect storm that he allowed to draw him into a situation that he otherwise had no proclivity for," Harms wrote. "Kevin's feelings for Sonya Symons were intense. It was Symons who introduced Kevin to the man she thought would be a source of marijuana for easy money."
Harms said Still "felt strongly" that it was his duty to provide for Symons and her son and he wanted to use the money to bail Symons out of her financial distress, court documents said.
"The informant proposed to Kevin that he could sell methamphetamine and would make much more money. Kevin let the informant know immediately and with no doubt that he was not interested," Harms wrote. "Right or wrong, part of Kevin's justification was that he believed he could turn this operation into a legitimate sale of medical marijuana and then distribute when marijuana is legalized."
Still is working on starting a business, and Harms said his client will be able to establish financial independence if he's allowed to serve time on home detention, documents said.
The jailers were arrested following an investigation by the Tri-Cities Metro Drug Task Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.
Symons' brother, Troy Green, 29, of Spokane, also was charged for his alleged role in the marijuana distribution plan and is awaiting trial.
Still and Green were arrested in Spokane when they went to meet an undercover detective who arranged to sell them 12 pounds of marijuana for $30,000. Symons was arrested at home.
According to court documents, Still and Symons initiated plans to start dealing marijuana by contacting an inmate at the Franklin County jail who was known to have contacts in the marijuana distribution business.
In June 2009, the inmate then approached a Metro detective and provided information about the corrections officers trying to connect with large drug trafficking organizations.
The informant said he got preferential treatment from the jailers -- Symons let the informant use her personal cell phone while locked up -- and maintained a personal relationship with them once released.
In September, Still contacted the informant to get help buying 50 pounds of pot and the informant set up a meeting with an undercover officer acting as a large-scale marijuana transporter, documents said.
Still and Green allegedly negotiated a purchase deal with the undercover officer, but only had $12,000 with them when they went to make the buy, so the undercover agent agreed to front them half of the 12 pounds of marijuana, documents said. They were arrested after they completed the transaction.