Judge uses sentence to make example of Big Isle pot grower
A flood of supporting letters does not sway the judge's decision
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HILO » A Big Island judge yesterday sentenced a first-time drug offender to 20 years in prison despite a flood of positive testimonials from the culprit's friends and neighbors.
David Finley, 65, was arrested in January 2007 for possession of more of than 75 pounds of marijuana at his ranch in Volcano. Police also found 199 marijuana plants in greenhouses, as well as other drugs.
A typical drug-possession sentence for first offenders is probation, but Circuit Judge Glen Hara declared, "Any sentence other than prison would undermine the respect for law."
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HILO » More than 90 people wrote letters to Circuit Judge Glen Hara telling him that Big Island marijuana grower David Finley, 65, is a good man. Hara agreed with them.
"I am convinced, Mr. Finley, that you're not a bad person, that you're not an evil person," Hara said yesterday.
But on Jan. 29, 2007, Finley had been arrested at his 29-acre Volcano ranch with a lot of marijuana, more than 75 pounds of it, plus other drugs.
Yesterday Hara sentenced him to two terms of 20 years, to be served simultaneously.
The normal sentence for most first-time offenders like Finley would be probation.
But Hara added, "Any sentence other than prison would undermine the respect for law."
The judge explained that he considered not only the law but also public welfare.
"Marijuana is fully entrenched in our island way of life," he said. Many people start using it before they are teenagers, he said.
The effect of marijuana on the development of children's brains is not fully understood, he said.
Its effect on adults is uncertain, he suggested. "I don't think you'd be very comfortable about me passing sentence on you after smoking a joint," he told Finley.
Finley probably wouldn't be happy about a doctor using marijuana before performing surgery on Finley's wife, Hara said.
Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville said some people think they are safe from prosecution since Hawaii County stopped taking federal marijuana eradication grants about two years ago. The number of prosecutions has actually increased, he said.
Deputy Prosecutor Jason Skier, who handled Finley's prosecution, said, "This was a large-scale commercial enterprise." Police said they found 127 one-ounce bags of marijuana with price tags on them of $280 to $300 each.
Police also found 199 marijuana plants in greenhouses, two pounds of hashish, almost 19 grams of illegal mushrooms, and 59 illegal methadone pills.
Originally charged with 14 counts, Finley pled guilty to two counts of commercial growing of marijuana.
Finley's attorney, Brian De Lima, said the bags held only low-value leaves and stems. Finley had claimed he intended to use the bagged material to make wine.
De Lima accused his client of "stupidity," but said he deserved no worse than probation.
Finley had already spent 14 months in jail and agreed to pay a fine of $85,000 rather than have his house confiscated, leaving his wife with no place to live, De Lima said.
The father of five children and grandfather of several more, Finley told Hara, "For 40 years, my life was my family. The day that I was arrested, my life was cut off. I know I've done wrong. I have to be responsible for it."
The 20-year sentences set by Hara are maximums. The Hawaii Paroling Authority will set Finley's minimum sentence.
Damerville said Finley's sentence is consistent with other recent sentences such as the 10 years given to first-time offender Sequoia Heuer, 24, of Puna. He and his father were caught with 869 plants, more than Finley, but the plants weighed only eight pounds, less than the 75 pounds Finley had.