Twelve Pot Plants Earn Missouri Siblings 15-Year Sentences

By Paul Gaita 04/15/14

Though they claimed it was for personal use, Natalie and David DePriest were handed harsh sentences for cultivating marijuana and intent to distribute.

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While Attorney General Eric Holder considers a wholesale reform of charges for marijuana possession and distribution, a court in Missouri has sentenced a pair of siblings to 15 years in prison for growing 20 marijuana plants – eight of which were only sprouts – in their condominium.

Thirty-six-year-old Natalie DePriest and her brother, David, 34, were arrested in 2011 after a maintenance man installing a fire extinguisher in their Farmington, Mo. condo spotted the plants and what he believed to be a pipe bomb on the kitchen counter. Police obtained a warrant to search the property and found the 20 plants, three pounds of dried cannabis, a rifle, two legal pistols, a pair of bulletproof vests, and a ledger with sales records totaling an unspecified profit of $8,000 a month.

Though David later stated that he was a certified gunsmith and owned the weapons as a hobby, and the ledger contained records of his poker winnings – the alleged pipe bomb was proven false – he and his sister would spend the next two years and tens of thousands of dollars defending the marijuana possession, which police stated was evidence of a sizable drug selling operation. The DePriests denied the charges, stating that they grew the marijuana for their own personal use.

Already bankrupt from court costs and facing an additional $4,000 for trial proceedings, the siblings pled guilty to growing more than five grams of marijuana and intending to distribute it, believing that, like 80 percent of similar offenders in the state of Missouri, they would receive 120-day sentences and three years of probation. Both were also employed and had no prior felony convictions.

Instead, Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Pratte handed down the maximum sentences to the DePriests: 15 years for cultivating marijuana and 15 years for intent to distribute, with David receiving an additional seven years for owning an illegal rifle. Pratte, who ordered the pair to serve their sentences concurrently, stated that “the law is the law,” according to court records, and did not “care one bit” that most Americans believe that pot should be legalized.

Reaction from the DePriest’s family and the Farmington community as a whole showed overwhelming dismay at the severity of the sentence, even in a state with exceptionally strict rules regarding marijuana sentences. St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin, who handled the state’s side in the case, was quoted as saying that the DePriests will probably serve only a portion of their sentences, but will most likely remain behind bars until 2016 or late 2017.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.