Yuba County DA decides against retrial of Rastafarian church leader
Special to The Union
After a Yuba County jury could not agree on a verdict last month regarding local Rastafarian church leader Heidi Lepp’s marijuana conspiracy case, District Attorney Clint Curry announced his department would not seek a retrial.
Lepp was charged with felony conspiracy to cultivate marijuana and felony conspiracy to sell marijuana. Lepp faced three years in prison for the charges. Her trial ended Feb. 20 with a hung jury.
After consulting with the investigating officer and the deputy district attorney who handled the case at trial, Curry made the decision to not pursue a retrial. A Yuba County judge granted his motion on Monday to dismiss the case.
“The 12 citizens on the jury were unable to come to a unanimous decision, and were in fact deadlocked seven to five. The nearly even split among the jurors, half to acquit and half to convict, strongly suggests that reasonable people can disagree over whether the evidence proves the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” Curry said. “With no new evidence or arguments to present at a retrial, I am unable to say we still have a good faith belief that we can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Lepp’s trial lasted five days before it went to jury. Her charges stemmed from an incident in August 2017 where two sheriff’s deputies were shot and wounded by a caretaker at a marijuana grow in Oregon House considered property of Lepp’s Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church. The caretaker, Mark A. Sanchez, 33, was killed by return gunfire from the deputies.
Following the shooting, law enforcement served search warrants at 12 illegal grow sites in the Yuba County foothills and Sacramento County associated with Lepp and her church. Lepp and 17 others were arrested during the raids.
“At times like this, I am disappointed with the result, but I am also mindful that our jury system was established by our nation’s founders as a check against executive power,” Curry said. “… Yuba County Superior Court Judge Julia Scrogin stated that she believed the jurors had made a thorough effort in trying to come to a unanimous verdict. She granted the People’s motion to dismiss the case based on insufficient evidence.”
Jake Abbott is a reporter for the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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