A Winchester man who claimed in testimony that his legal troubles were politically motivated was found to have violated the conditions of his diversion supervision, leading the court to accept a previously entered guilty plea on a trafficking charge rather than completing a diversion program.
Wesley A. Stratton, 21, last June pled guilty in Highland County Common Pleas Court to fifth-degree felony trafficking in marijuana, a charge amended from a fourth-degree felony, and was admitted into the prosecutor’s diversion program.
First time, low level offenders admitted into the program have the opportunity to have felony charges against them dismissed if they successfully complete the program, which can last a year or more depending on the progress of the individual.
On Monday, retired Franklin County Judge Dale Crawford heard testimony in regard to the allegations filed against Stratton, which include Stratton selling illegal drugs and associating with people he knew to be on probation. Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss previously recused himself from the case.
On Tuesday, The Times-Gazette listened to an audio recording of the proceedings because the hearing was hastily scheduled Monday after the judge, who had heard a separate case Friday, decided to proceed with the Stratton case and because Stratton’s attorney was soon leaving town.
The allegations against Stratton stem from a statement given by a 17-year-old in the Highland County Juvenile Court system who in April tested positive for marijuana and cocaine and later identified Stratton as the person from whom she purchased the drugs.
The juvenile testified Monday that she purchased cocaine from Stratton in April at a party, and that she purchased marijuana from him “so many times” previously that she couldn’t give an accurate number.
She also testified that “two or three weeks” prior to the party she attempted to make a purchase from Stratton, but “he said he had to go get more weed because his dad had found it and flushed it down the toilet.”
Prosecutor Anneka Collins presented a photo taken at the party, and the witness identified herself and Stratton. Later, Stratton’s probation officer identified two known criminals also present in the photo.
Of the two males identified in the photo from the party, Stratton said, “I know them, but do not associate with them.” He said he had heard that the two males had been the subject of a drug raid, but claimed he didn’t know what came of that.
Stratton also testified that he had in the past sold marijuana to the 17-year-old juvenile witness, but never cocaine.
Stratton called the 17-year-old a liar, saying that she didn’t approach him at the party. When asked by defense attorney Mike Kelly why she would lie about that, Stratton said, “She doesn’t like me … she’s kind of crazy.” He said later that the juvenile “lies a lot.”
Stratton said he was told he would be in the diversion program for a year and believed he had completed it. He said that he signed the agreement with the state on June 10, 2014, and on June 12, 2015 the probation violations were filed, when he was due to be done with the program. For that year Stratton said he had been “doing everything right.”
“They came to my house on Friday and asked for a random drug test,” Stratton said. “I passed it, and here we are today.”
When Kelly asked Stratton if he would like to remain in the program, Stratton, referring to Collins, said, “No. I would like to get out of Anneka’s program because she will not allow me to complete it.” Stratton stated that the reason he would not be allowed to complete the program was “because she has a problem with my father.” Stratton is the son of the chief deputy of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office.
When Collins asked Stratton if he had initially been content with the diversion program, he said he had been. He acknowledged during his testimony under questioning from Collins that he had told his probation officer that he was “a pawn in a political chess game.”
Collins closed by making note of the reduced charge to which Stratton was allowed to plead, and said that he was “given the same opportunity” as anyone else in his position.
Collins said that she didn’t feel Stratton’s “attitude has been appropriate” for the program from the beginning. She added that based on things that occurred at the beginning of the case, most people would not have been given the diversion program.
Collins said that “at the very least” Stratton violated the program and his supervision by being around people he was prohibited from associating with. She asked that the court find that the violations “are in good faith.”
Kelly said Stratton had been compliant during his time in the program, that he reported to his probation officer, he remained employed, submitted to drug screens, and promptly paid the fees associated with the diversion program.
Kelly noted that the program is through the prosecutor’s office and not the court. He asked the court to find that Stratton had not violated the conditions of the program.
The judge said that he, not Collins, was the one who ordered Friday’s drug screen, based on the nature of the case.
“I don’t think you quite understand this, Mr. Stratton. Being placed in the diversion program is not a right, it’s a privilege that’s granted to you by the prosecution,” Crawford said.
“It sounds like you have a lot of ill will toward the prosecution,” the judge added. “She didn’t have to allow you in the program in the first place.”
Collins said later that the diversion program is for one to two years – not less than one, not more than two – and that the probation office oversees the program and recommends when someone should be released from it, which had not happend in Stratton’s case.
Ultimately, Crawford determined that Stratton violated his diversion supervision and he accepted the guilty plea that has been held in abeyance since last June.
Stratton is set to be sentenced on the fifth-degree felony marijuana trafficking charge in early September.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.