By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The lawyer for jailed cannabis minister Roger Christie said Wednesday that if all goes well at a Friday change-of-plea hearing, his client could be a free man “in approximately six months.”
Honolulu attorney Thomas Otake said in an email that he didn’t want to “get into specifics of the plea agreement until it is actually accepted by the court on Friday.” He said that if the plea deal is accepted, Christie’s wife, Share Christie, would be able to remain free while her case is on appeal.
Roger Christie’s The Hawaii Cannabis (THC) Ministry in downtown Hilo and Wainaku apartment were raided by the feds and local police on March 10, 2010. According to court documents, authorities confiscated approximately 845 grams of processed marijuana from the apartment, plus $21,494 cash found in a safe in the apartment and in a bank safe deposit box. The money and the apartment face possible federal forfeiture.
The Christies and 12 others were charged with conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 284 marijuana plants, which carries a mandatory minimum prison term of five years and a maximum of 40 years if they’re convicted.
The others were granted bail, but U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang ordered Roger Christie held without bail, calling him “a danger to the community.” He has been incarcerated for 3 1/2 years, and pending the plea deal, was scheduled for trial on Oct. 8.
U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi ruled in July that the Christies “may rely upon their religious beliefs to counter the element of ‘intent to distribute’ in … charges alleged against them,” but earlier this month denied their motion to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which allows certain Native American religions to use the hallucinogens peyote and ayahuasca as religious sacraments, at trial.
In a written statement, Otake said that despite “the federal court declaring that the THC Ministry is a legitimate religion,the court recently issued several rulings that severely affect Reverend Christie’s constitutional right to a full and fair trial.”
“Instead of proceeding to trial disadvantaged by these rulings, Rev. Christie has decided the best course of action for his ministry, his cause, and his family at this time is to enter into a conditional plea agreement,” Otake wrote. “The plea agreement allows him to appeal these adverse rulings to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court if necessary. Rev. Christie is as motivated as ever to continue this fight, and is energized by the prospects of taking the fight to the next level. He has never denied distributing cannabis for religious purposes, and will admit to such conduct as part of his plea agreement. However, in his appeal Rev. Christie will continue to assert his belief that such activities were permissible and legal.”
Of the Christies’ co-defendants, all but two have made plea deals with the prosecution. They are: Susanne Lenore Friend; Timothy M. Mann; Richard Bruce Turpen; Donald James Gibson; Roland Gregory Ignacio; Perry Emilio Policchio; John Debaptist Bouey III; Michael B. “Dewey” Shapiro; Victoria C. Fiore; and Jessica R. Walsh, aka Jessica Hackman.
One co-defendant, Aaron George Zeeman has not pleaded guilty. His trial is scheduled for March 11, 2014. He is also facing a charge of second-degree promotion of a detrimental drug, a misdemeanor, in Hilo Circuit Court.
The final co-defendant, Wesley Mark Sudbury, has been a fugitive for more than three years. A federal warrant for his arrest was issued in August 2010.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.