COLUMBIA CITY — Three people received sentences from the Whitley County Circuit Court on Monday, Feb. 4, for charges related to the dealing of illegal substances.
Prior to Monday’s hearing, Zach Long had pleaded guilty to aiding in the dealing of cocaine, a level 4 felony. Per details of the case brought up Long’s attorney, Jamie Egolf, Long was not the person who actually sold the drugs during the incident in question, but drove the person who did.
Egolf argued that there was no evidence that Long had ever been in possession of the drugs himself with the intent to sell, and therefore asked the court to allow Long to serve his sentence not in jail, but on probation with “significant” addiction counseling.
Whitley County Prosecutor DJ Sigler disagreed with Egolf’s statements that Long was just a driver, and therefore should not be subject to the same punishments as an actual dealer. Sigler argued that even Long’s apparently limited role in this incident merited some sort of consequence.
“This is drug dealing; this is giving a drug dealer a ride,” Sigler said. “Mr. Long’s continued minimization of his conduct warrants the court’s position of four years.”
Before Judge Mathew Rentschler handed down the sentence, Long addressed the court and apologized. He expressed his desire to get back on the right path.
“I know the steps that I need to take to move on with my life and do the right thing,” Long said.
Rentschler commended Long for his heartfelt statement, and that it gave him hope that Long will find his way back eventually. He did emphasize that while he recognized that addiction is a disease, it cannot be the sole scapegoat, and that Long has to take responsibility and make the right choice.
Per Rentschler’s sentence, Long will serve one year in the Whitley County Jail followed by probation for the remainder of his sentence.
Cory Graham was also sentenced on Feb. 5 after pleading guilty to one count of dealing in methamphetamine, a level 3 felony.
Graham’s grandmother and guardian, Kimberly Rosareo, spoke on behalf of her grandson, discussing how Graham lost his mother at a very young age and how he never fully processed that grief, eventually turning to drugs.
“It’s hard to empathize with someone if you haven’t gone through the same thing,” Rosareo said.
Attorney Anthony Churchward used this testimony to appeal to the court that Graham is not a bad person, but merely someone who made bad choices and should receive a lesser sentence. Churchward also added that Graham, who is gainfully employed, would benefit from structure that something like work release could give him.
Sigler insisted that although Graham’s childhood was challenging, the high-profile nature of this offense could not go unnoticed.
Taking into account both arguments, Rentschler determined that Graham would serve four years in the Indiana Department of Corrections and five years on probation. In addition to jail time, Graham will also be required to complete the coursework to receive a GED and participate in the DOC’s drug and alcohol program.
The third sentence handed down on Feb. 4 was for Benjamin Wagoner, who previously pled guilty to a Level 2 felony for dealing in meth.
Churchward argued that despite Wagoner’s criminal history, he had not been charged with a felony in at least a decade. He also pointed out that the amount of meth Wagoner had intended to sell was “just over the threshold,” into a Level 2 felony and that Wagoner was not a “big time” dealer that made transactions on a regular basis.
In the pre-sentence investigation report, Wagoner was quoted as saying “I’m not a dealer, I’m an electrician.” Sigler took issue with the statement saying a person could be both, and it appears as though Wagoner is, in fact both.
“This represents his third conviction for dealing,” Sigler said. “Mr. Wagoner is in every sense and every way, a drug dealer with an extensive criminal history.”
At one point, Wagoner had the opportunity to speak on his own behalf, but was overcome with emotion and unable to speak. Churchward ended up reading the written statement while Wagoner quietly cried beside him.
When the statement was completed, Rentschler acknowledged that this display of emotion by Wagoner was real and that he hoped Wagoner was upset not just because of his potential prison sentence, but because he realized the hurt he has caused others.
Rentschler ruled that Wagoner would serve 20 years in the DOC and hoped that the department would have better tools to help Wagoner get his life back in order.