Pot grower sent to prison

A Little Hocking man was sentenced Thursday to nearly three and a half years in prison on charges of marijuana cultivation and will likely face more charges for allegedly urging a witness to lie for him during his trial on the charges.

William H. Keel, 50, of 1666 Schoolhouse Road, did an about face and pleaded guilty on the second day of his September trial when one of the witnesses-Keel’s son-backed out of his testimony, said Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Rings.

“One of his witnesses came and revealed to us that he’s been sort of intimidated, talked into taking the stand and lying to say it was all his fault,” said Rings.

Because of Keel’s “behavior through the course of the trial,” Rings recommended a three-year prison sentence on the two charges.

Keel’s attorney Rolf Baumgartel argued that Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane should not factor Keel’s alleged conspiracy to commit perjury into sentencing.

“The state has already made it clear they are going to pursue these actions separately…The state is gonna have many more shots at Mr. Keel in the near future,” he said.

Rings confirmed he plans to present felony charges against Keel for consideration- at an upcoming grand jury. Charges could include intimidation of a witness, tampering with evidence, or conspiracy to commit perjury, all third-degree felonies punishable by three years in prison.

Baumgartel asked that those charges be dealt with separately and recommended community control and a stay at the SEPTA Correctional Facility for Keel.

For his part, Keel admitted to having several substance abuse issues and also asked to be placed into SEPTA.

“I did it because I’m addicted to marijuana…I’ve got anxiety and anger issues. I get in an argument with my wife. She tells me to go take my medicine,” said Keel, referring to marijuana.

Keel said he is financially stable and the marijuana being grown was not for sale or profit.

Keel was arrested in September 2012 after a search warrant executed at his home led to the discovery of 68 marijuana plants-some inside Keel’s home and some in a garden and nearby field.

The discovery resulted in a third-degree felony charge of cultivation for the plants outside and a fifth-degree felony count of cultivation for the smaller quantity of plants growing inside.

Keel was also charged with a third-degree felony count of having weapons while under a disability out of the incident. A prior felony conviction for the distribution of cocaine prevented Keel from being allowed to have the Marlin .22 long rifle found in his home. However, Keel was acquitted of that charge during an earlier July trial, said Rings.

“I can state with a fair degree of confidence that the acquittal was the result of an act of perjury because the young man was afraid of his father,” said Rings.

Keel denied the accusation.

“As far as perjury, I didn’t persuade my son to say anything,” he said.

Lane said Keel’s conduct throughout the trial would be a factor of sentencing.

“He tried to get his son to say it was his and the son had an audio or video device record the threats,” he said.

Lane said Keel’s prior criminal history also precluded a community control sanction.

“In fact he has been given probation and violated probation on federal charges,” said Lane.

He sentenced Keel to 30 months on the third-degree felony and 11 months on the fifth-degree felony for a total of three years and five months-seven months shy of the maximum available punishment.

Lane also sentenced Keel to pay $6,250 in fines on the charges.

“I rarely order fines,” said Lane, but cited Keel’s work history and assets as factors that made him able to pay a financial sanction.

Baumgartel argued that Keel has no savings and shares his property with his wife.

“It’s possible he’ll be able to find employment after his release from prison but not definite,” said Baumgartel.

Lane said he was confident Keel’s background would allow him to find a job.