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Best friends argue in court over pot plant

September 18, 2012
By Joan Ashley - Special to The Inter-Mountain , The Inter-Mountain

In less than two hours Thursday, a Pendleton County Circuit Court jury found Caleb Teter, 21, not guilty of manufacturing or possessing one marijuana plant.

"I'm so relieved and just want to move forward with my life," Teter said after the verdict was read by Circuit Judge Donald Cookman.

Key to Prosecutor Kevin Sponaugle's case were volunteer informant and "best friend" Gabriel Hammer and a hidden videotape.

"I wanted to get clean and straighten out my life," Hammer told the jury about testifying against his lifelong friend.

Under questioning by defense attorney Jerry Moore, Hammer testified that he had been taken in to live periodically with the Teters when he had family trouble at his own home.

Hammer admitted to being convicted in the past of various traffic offenses, writing worthless checks, stealing from his parents, and making a false statement to police.

He was a documented drug addict using heroin, cocaine, methadone, opiates, marijuana and alcohol (he reportedly had a $100 a day habit), and under the influence of drugs and tending his own marijuana when he reported Teter nurturing one plant to Chief Deputy Sheriff Chad Bowers in August 2011.

"You were an all-American best citizen when you walked into the police department and reported your best friend for growing one plant," Moore said during cross-examination.

Sponaugle countered with the fact that drug informers are not normally preachers or bankers.

"Drug information usually comes from those around drugs," he said.

Bowers and State Police Cpl. Charles Teter (no relation to defendant) set up a pressure sensitive video camera on Aug. 27. On Sept. 11 and 12 video footage showed Teter, identified by a distinctive motorcycle helmet and the tattoos on the back of both arms, at the site on private property on Anderson Hill above Franklin.

Teter was asked to remove his longsleeve shirt in court to display the tattoos to the jury.

"If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much more is a video recording?" Sponaugle asked the jury. The prosecutor said this video provided sufficient evidence to convict Teter since he was the only one caught on the camera during its three weeks on site.

After Teter's brother, Devon Corey Teter, testified that Hammer had asked him and he had refused to go up on Anderson Hill to tend Hammer's plant, Caleb Teter took the stand and swore the plant was not his.

"That was me on the video. In September, Hammer told me to go up and take stuff off the plant," Caleb Teter said. "I did not plant that marijuana plant - he set me up!"

"Caleb is guilty of being as dumb as a bunch of rocks for going up there, but he is not guilty of manufacturing marijuana," Moore said. "Surely to God you are not going to convict this boy on the word of Gabe Hammer. There's right and there's wrong - that would be a sad day in Pendleton County."

After the trial, Teter's mother, Vickie Teter, said she was ecstatic at the not guilty verdict.

"I never want to see the inside of a courthouse ever again," she said.

 
 

 

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