Pot gardener gets jail time

A Vincent man was sentenced to 90 days in jail Wednesday in Washington County Common Pleas Court for growing marijuana in his one-time girlfriend’s home.

A deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office was accompanying David W. Stratton, 57, of Vincent, on March 13 as he removed items from the 2228 Sealy Ridge Road, Vincent, home he had shared with girlfriend Kimberly S. Bechak, 43.

“They were in the process of splitting up and he had actually been ordered out of the house,” explained Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider.

Bechak had a protection order in place against Stratton and Stratton could only enter the home under the supervision of a deputy.

While there, the deputy smelled marijuana and Bechak told officers Stratton had been growing the plants in the closet.

“He said that she uses it too and that’s why they were both charged,” said Schneider.

Both Stratton and Bechak were initially indicted on charges of cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana, both third-degree felonies.

Stratton pleaded guilty May 29 to a reduced fifth-degree felony count of drug possession.

Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider recommended that Stratton be sentenced to three years community control, but left a decision about jail time to the discretion of the court.

In weighing sentencing options, Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane expressed concern that a pending domestic violence charge against Stratton could affect his eligibility for the SEPTA Correctional Facility.

“The letter I have says he’s SEPTA eligible but he has a pending DV charge,” he said.

Stratton’s attorney, Jay Gerber, said the charge had been resolved since the letter.

“He pleaded guilty to domestic violence by threat for fines and court costs, so that’s taken care of,” he said.

Aside from the domestic violence charge, Stratton has no prior criminal record either as an adult or a juvenile, noted Lane.

“You’ve been a law abiding citizen most of your life,” he said.

Lane agreed that Stratton was amenable to community control and sentenced him to three years under the supervision. He also ordered Stratton to serve 90 days in the Washington County Jail, taking the first available bed at SEPTA after 60 days.

“After your successful completion of the SEPTA program, you’re to report to L&P Services. They provide drug and alcohol counseling and you’re to follow their counseling program until the end of your community control or until they otherwise release you,” he said.

He also ordered that Stratton undergo evaluation for the court’s “Thinking For A Change” program, a cognitive behavioral change program developed by The National Institute of Corrections.

Bechak is expected to plead guilty to a reduced fourth-degree misdemeanor charge of drug possession, said Schneider.