A Parsons man took advantage of long delays in his criminal case to get the help he needed that ended up convincing a Labette County judge to give him probation rather than prison on Friday.
Eli J. Hunter, 47, pleaded guilty in October in Labette County District Court to three counts of distribution of methamphetamine, all felonies, and one count of possession with intent to distribute meth. He pleaded to other counts related to using a phone to arrange drug sales and possession of an illegal shotgun, the barrel for which was less than 18 inches long, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
A preliminary hearing took place in June 2018. Witnesses included a KBI senior special agent and a confidential informant who bought meth from Hunter.
KBI agent Shawn Campiti worked with Parsons police and the Labette County sheriff in the investigation that used a local man who agreed to buy drugs from Hunter and perhaps others in exchange for Parsons Municipal Court charges being dropped.
At the buy, officers monitored a broadcast of the buy (the informant wore a voice transmitter, or a “wire”) to ensure the informant’s safety. The buys occurred on May 26, 2017, May 30, 2017, and June 8, 2017, all at Hunter’s house. The first two buys cost the KBI $90 each for which the informant was to receive half of an eight-ball of meth, or 1.75 grams. He received 0.76 of a gram the first time and 1.3 grams the second. The third buy was for an eight ball and a half, or 5.25 grams, or two eight balls, or 7 grams, and the informant received $340 in buy money and only received 4.92 grams of product.
After the investigation concluded, authorities received a search warrant for Hunter’s home. The warrant was served Aug. 4, 2017, and authorities found 1.73 grams of meth, drug paraphernalia and a sawed-off shotgun, which is illegal to possess.
Hunter faced a minimum of eight years in prison in the case, which was filed in 2017. His attorney, David Markham, pointed out that he worked through different defense strategies for his client that took extra time. But the time was to Hunter’s benefit as Hunter has done well on bond supervision and he decided he needed drug treatment. Hunter worked to successfully complete outpatient treatment through Labette Center for Mental Health Services. The time has given Hunter a new outlook on life, Markham said. Hunter has also taken responsibility for the crimes and regrets his involvement in them, he said. Markham recommended that Judge Steve Stockard sentence his client to 98 months in prison on the primary offense, making the remaining terms concurrent to it, and then place his client on probation.
Labette County Attorney Stephen Jones agreed with the recommendation for probation rather than prison as part of the plea.
Markham called two witnesses to support his request for probation, Hunter’s substance abuse counselor and Hunter’s mother.
Mark Gardner of Labette Center for Mental Health Services testified that Hunter began outpatient therapy in December 2019 and completed treatment in November. Hunter attended 27 sessions. Gardner worked on coping skills with Hunter, determined Hunter’s triggers for drug use and taught him how to combat that and cravings. Gardner also guided Hunter on how to rebuild his support system with his family.
Hunter’s mother, LeeAnn Hunter, testified about a strained relationship she and her husband had with her son for some time. She knew he was going through something, tried to help but didn’t know how. In the last two years, she noticed a change in him. He took more pride in his home, started refinishing furniture to make money and started treatment with Gardner. He now has focus and clarity. His granddaughter lives in Pennsylvania and will undergo medical treatments and Hunter would like to be able to travel there to be there for her.
This past Christmas was one of the best since her son was a teenager, his mother testified. He was present and engaged in family activities, she said.
Hunter’s goal is to see his daughter and grandchildren and live in Pennsylvania, if given the chance at probation.
She said she and her husband, Terry, will be there for Hunter as a support system.
“If love can do it, we got it for him,” LeeAnn Hunter testified.
Hunter, when asked for his statement before sentencing, apologized to Judge Stockard for his case taking so long. He said he was in a bad place in 2017 and hopes to learn from his mistakes. His parents will stand behind him and he just wants to do better with his life.
Stockard said the criminal case is a serious matter and requires a prison term. But he agreed to depart from Kansas Sentencing Guidelines based on Markham’s arguments, testimony and Jones’ agreement. He granted Hunter probation rather than prison.
“You are extremely lucky to have a mother who is so loving and compelling in her testimony. I find her incredibly credible in her testimony. She strikes me as someone who has gone through a lot for you,” Stockard said.
He said Hunter is lucky to have an attorney who guided him through the last three years and put together circumstances that compelled him to offer a second chance. Stockard said Hunter’s demeanor in court also compelled him. He said he could tell that Hunter has been through challenging times and has had to work hard to overcome a “very challenging addiction.”
Stockard sentenced Hunter to a controlling 98 months in prison in the case. He suspended that term and placed Hunter on probation through the community corrections program for three years. He also ordered Hunter to pay $100 a month during probation toward court costs.
In other cases:
— Shawntus D. Mack, born in 1988, Parsons, was ordered to stand trial for aggravated domestic battery, a lower-level felony, after testimony at a preliminary hearing Friday. Mack and his fiancee, Elizabeth Swanwick, were arrested Sept. 27 after a domestic violence incident at 3004 Briggs. Parsons Police Sgt. Joel Franklin testified that he and Officer Tyeler Riggs responded to the house and found Mack with scratches on his cheek and neck and Swanwick with what appeared to be a handprint on her throat. Mack denied choking Swanwick, and Swanwick told police she struck Mack first in the incident and then he choked her to near unconsciousness. She was intoxicated when officers arrived, according to testimony. On Friday, she testified that she didn’t remember the incident. Mack will return to court Jan. 29 for arraignment.
— Brandon T. Basoco, born in 1996, Parsons, pleaded no contest to attempted aggravated assault of a person on March 18, 2020, at 2610 Kimball. Sentencing will be March 11.
— Brandon M. Kindrick, 30, Parsons, pleaded to interference with a law officer, a felony, and received a year in prison on the charge. He could have received a prison term because he was on felony probation at the time of the crime, but the prosecutor agreed to waive that requirement in the plea agreement. Kindrick was placed on probation for a year. He was ordered to serve his 16-month prison term in a 2016 case, for which his probation was revoked, but the jail credit of 520 days flattened that time with 40 days left over to apply toward jail credit in his newest case. Kindrick was also ordered to pay court costs and only $250 of his $600 in attorney fees.
— Dayton J. Smith, 29, Parsons, pleaded to possession of methamphetamine, a felony, and three misdemeanors, domestic battery and two counts of endangering a child. He received a controlling 11 months in prison on the drug charge. Stockard suspended that prison term and placed Smith on probation for a year, giving him credit for 76 days served in jail. He is also to complete 20 hours of community service and pay $100 a month toward court costs and attorney fees. The complaint alleged that between Dec. 10 and 11, 2019, Smith possessed meth, battered his girlfriend and endangered his and his girlfriend’s children.