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Ohio jury convicts Harding on pot charges

Locations: News Published

Eight years in prison

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Carbondale resident Kelly Harding was convicted in Madison County, Ohio, last month on marijuana-related charges, and has begun serving an eight-year prison term at the Ohio State Penitentiary, according to published news accounts and statements by his girlfriend, Kristie Bullington.

According to a news story in the Madison Press in London, Ohio, Harding was convicted by a six-person jury on Nov. 16, following a Jan. 13, 2016 traffic stop on I-70, after which police reported they had found more than 120 pounds of pot stuffed into plastic bags and stored in “Totes” in the back of Harding’s car.

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Harding, who was 47 at the time, was driving east in his mother’s car, with a passenger and friend who also lives in the Roaring Fork Valley, Craig Voight, then 46.

Harding said they were on their way to see Voight’s mom in New York, bearing what Harding said he thought were household goods for Voight’s mom in the Totes in back, when their Subaru wagon was pulled over on I-70 about 25 miles west of Columbus by Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers.

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The troopers said at the time that they pulled Harding over because he was tailgating a truck in front of him, although Harding has argued throughout the case that he was “profiled” as a possible pot smuggler when police spotted his Colorado plates and a Denver Broncos emblem on the back of the car.

During the traffic stop, according to one of the troopers, Harding’s hands shook as he got out his driver’s license. That, and a glimpse of something “under a blanket” in the back of the car, prompted the troopers to bring in a drug-sniffing dog and reportedly found the marijuana in the back seat, although Harding has disputed the propriety of that search.

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Harding has maintained all along that he was set up by police and that he did not know about any marijuana in the car.

Bullington, asked by The Sopris Sun about the presence of pot in the vehicle on the day of the arrest, said they now know it belonged to Voight, who “previously did prison time for trafficking marijuana,” according to the story in the Madison Press.

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But Harding, Bullington insisted, did not know about the pot.

While Voight originally was charged along with Harding, the charges against him were later dropped.

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The charges were dropped because federal drug agents told a local prosecutor that they were building a case against Voight and that they did not want Ohio to prosecute him in this matter, according to a story in the Madison Press.

Dash cam

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According to Harding, police doctored a videotape from the “dash cam” in one of the three squad cars that were involved in the traffic stop, and failed to produce dash-cam tapes from the other two patrol cars because they were destroyed after an officer reviewed them and decided they would not be useful to the prosecution in the case.

In addition, when Harding demanded to see the original of the videotape that was produced in court as evidence, he was stonewalled by police and by the court, Harding has said.

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When confronted with this claim, the trial judge reportedly told Harding he had never asked to be given a copy of the videotape, just to have it examined by an expert. And that expert, Primeau Forensics of Columbus, Ohio, had not found any evidence that the tape had been doctored, the judge reportedly said.

But, according to Bullington, the managers at Primeau told her they had never been paid by Madison County for their work and had not filed a final report about the alleged doctoring of the tape, casting the judge’s statements into doubt.

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Harding also has maintained that the police fabricated evidence by saying they found a pair of “zippers” or “clips” in his pocket that were used to seal the pot in the plastic bags.

Bullington, who was present at the two-day trial, said that when Harding asked the prosecutor to produce the clips, the prosecutor told the court that it did not have them on hand.

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At that point the judge in the case, Eamon Costello, instructed the prosecutor to move the case along and not bother with the clips, according to Bullington.

Harding, who had fired his first court-appointed lawyer, Seth Schertzinger, for incompetence early in the case, tried to fire his second attorney, Fred Bellam, for a similar reason on the day the trial was to start, after having tried twice to fire Bellam before that, according to the Madison Press.

The judge rejected his request, saying to Harding, “You’re just throwing things at the wall at this point,” according to the Madison Press account of the trial.

At one point in the trial, according to Bullington, she confronted public defender Bellam outside the courtroom and demanded to know why he was not working harder to defend Harding and show that the police were lying, had improperly thrown out evidence and were trying to frame his client with such tactics as claiming to have a negative report from Primeau Forensics.

According to Bullington, Bellam told her state troopers are seen as “superheroes” by the state’s citizens, and he refused to accuse them of lying about the case.

Bellam then told Bullington that if she and Harding were dissatisfied with his representation, they should file an appeal on that basis, which Bullington said they intend to do. She also said that Bellam withdrew from the case on the last day of the trial, and that a new public defender has been appointed and probably will handle any appeal.

Bullington, who continues to proclaim Harding’s innocence of the charges lodged against him, lamented to The Sopris Sun this week, “There is so much wrong doing in this case, and Kelly is now in Ohio State Prison.”

Published in The Sopris Sun on December 1, 2016.