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Man faces prison time for alleged pot possession

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Claims trooper profiled him

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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A Carbondale man arrested earlier this year in Ohio on marijuana-related charges will go to trial on May 26, and could find himself in prison for the next eight years.

But the man, Kelly Harding, 48, maintains he was unaware that there was roughly 123 pounds of pot in the back of the car he was driving east on I-70 through Ohio, bound for New York State, when the car was stopped on Jan. 13 by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

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And at the most recent of three hearings on the case, Harding’s attorney maintained that the traffic stop that lead to the arrest was illegal.

Harding, who was released from jail on Feb. 10 on a bond of $50,000, told The Sopris Sun in a recent telephone interview that he was driving a friend, Craig Voight, 46, also of Carbondale, to see Voight’s mom in New York.

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Voight, who was arrested with Harding, was soon released and the charges against him were dropped, apparently because federal drug authorities are investigating him on other matters, according to an article in the Madison County, Ohio newspaper, the Madison Press.

Harding declined to discuss details of his defense, citing his attorney’s advise.

But the May 7 Madison Press article contains details from a court hearing at which Harding’s attorney, court-appointed lawyer Seth Schertzinger, tried to convince a judge that Harding was “profiled” by state troopers because his car bore Colorado license plates and had a Denver Bronco’s magnetized emblem on it.

Schertzinger, who is listed as a “contracts/agreements attorney in Plains, Ohio” on the Internet, was appointed by Madison County Common Pleas Court Judge Eamon Costello to represent Harding.

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The hearing concerned Schertzinger’s motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop.

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The bust

The state trooper who pulled over the 2014 silver Subaru that Harding was driving (it belongs to Harding’s mother) maintained in court that Harding was tailgating a semi-trailer-truck in front of the Subaru, and had closed to within three car-lengths of the truck rather than the seven car-lengths he should have maintained based on highway speeds.

The trooper, Michael Wilson, also testified that he “noticed Harding lean forward on the steering wheel, adjust his hands to the 10 and 2 o’clock positions, and focus intently down the road, prompting him to pull Harding over,” according to the article.

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Seeing a blanket covering “something across the back seat of the vehicle,” and that “Harding’s hand shook as he handed over his license,” Wilson testified, he called for a K-9 drug-sniffing dog to check out the Subaru, allegedly leading to discovery of the marijuana.

Schertzinger argued that anyone pulled over by a Ohio state trooper would be nervous, and questioned Wilson as to why he did not mention the tailgating when he talked with Harding at the scene of the traffic stop, and why the tailgating charge did not appear on the charging documents.

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“The stop was purely pretextual,” Schertzinger is quoted as saying, calling Wilson’s use of tailgating an “afterthought” to provide probably cause for the stop.

Although Harding questions the integrity of the videotape from Trooper Wilson’s dash-top camera, claiming it has been altered, his attorney was not able to get the cruiser video from two other trooper vehicles called in on the arrest because, according to prosecutors, those videos have been wiped clean per state law that calls for them to be archived for 60 days before they can be reused.

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The judge concluded that “it didn’t matter if troopers zeroed in on Harding’s Colorado ties” and ruled that the traffic stop was legal.

Harding is charged with possession of marijuana, a class-2 felony in Ohio, and “possession of criminal tools,” another felony, according to the article. The charges carry a mandatory eight-year sentence under Ohio law.

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The explanation that charges were dropped against Voight at the DEA’s request, according to the story, came from prosecuting attorney Nick Adkins.

Published in The Sopris Sun on May 19, 2016.