Guilty pleas in weapons case

A Vincent husband and wife found growing marijuana in their backyard both pleaded guilty Friday to having weapons under a disability but will avoid drug charges because law enforcement officials first entered their property without a warrant.

Mark Kerns, 51, and Tammie S. Kerns, 46, each pleaded guilty in Washington County Common Pleas Court to keeping a stock of guns in their 718 McGill Road home despite being prohibited from doing so because of previous federal felonies.

Several marijuana plants were spotted growing on the Kerns’ back porch during a July 25 helicopter flyover by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The Major Crimes Task Force was alerted and tried to make contact with the Kerns, but they were not home.

“They ended up going to the neighbor’s house and borrowing a ladder to prop up against the Kerns’ property and they got on the Kerns’ porch and see not only the plants that were spotted from the helicopter but some plants in the backyard,” said Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider.

While the flyover was proper procedure, using the ladder to peer into their yard and to brace it on the Kerns’ property was not, and the drug findings were likely to be suppressed, said Schneider.

However, the guns were found legally, added Schneider.

“They called Tammie Kerns at work and she came home and gave them permission to search the house,” he said.

Tammie admitted to agents that she and Mark both had a prior federal felony conviction for drug charges and were therefore not allowed to own the guns, added Schneider.

The Kerns were indicted in August, each on a third-degree felony count of illegal cultivation of marijuana and a third-degree felony count of having weapons while under disability

The Kerns were given the option to plead guilty to either charge, said Schneider. Both pleaded guilty to the weapons under a disability charge during separate court appearances Friday at Washington County Common Pleas Court.

“The bottom line is they will have to forfeit all their weapons,” he said.

The couple faced a maximum of three years in prison on the charge. However, they will be sentenced to community control sanctions and local jail time so long as their pre-sentence investigation reports do not turn up any criminal activity beyond the federal drug charges from 2001, said Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Burnworth.

The original sentencing agreement was that Mark would serve 75 days on 25 consecutive weekends; however, his attorney Dennis Sipe asked to approach the bench after Schneider read the agreement.

After a brief discussion with the attorneys, Burnworth announced that Mark would instead serve a 60-day intermittent sentence in the Washington County Jail, starting with a 30-day sentence and two separate 15-day sentences.

“We had talked about a 60-day sentence originally, but factored that up to 75 since you technically only serve two-and-a-half days on weekends,” said Burnworth.

Schneider said he did not mind reducing the sentence to 60 days since Mark would no longer be getting the benefit of the half days in jail.

He will also pay $100 fine.

Tammie will likely serve 30 days in two 15-day chunks and pay a $750 fine. The prosecution allowed Tammie to serve a shorter sentence so she could keep her job, but requested a higher fine to balance the sentences.

Mark is scheduled to be sentenced June 5 at 4 p.m. Tammie is scheduled to be sentenced June 17 at 4:15 p.m.