Lights & Sirens

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Jury convicts Puyallup-area musician of growing pot but acquits him of leading organized crime and money laundering

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on Aug. 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
August 20, 2012 2:07 pm
Ungerbuehler (Photo by TNT photographer Lui Kit Wong)

A Pierce County jury on Monday convicted Stephen Wesley Ungerbuehler of a felony, but the former bassist for the hard rock band Metal Church was mostly smiles as he left the County-City Building in downtown Tacoma.

Ungerbuehler had been charged with three felonies, including leading organized crime and money laundering. A conviction for leading organized crime, the most serious count, would have carried a prison sentence of about five years.

As it stands, he could face as little as no time in jail when he’s sentenced Sept. 28 on a single count of unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance. His lawyer, Jay Berneburg, said in court Ungerbuehler likely qualifies for first-time offender status and a sentence of 0-90 days in jail because he has no prior criminal record.

“The big ones went away,” a beaming Ungerbuehler told supporters as he left court following the reading of the verdict.

Jurors deliberated for two hours following a three-week trial before rejecting the prosecution’s argument that Ungerbuehler, who’s traveled the world playing rock ‘n’ roll, was the leader of a pot-growing enterprise that raked in profits he laundered through his personal bank accounts.

Berneburg argued and Ungerbuehler testified that he helped a friend sick with cancer grow a marijuana garden so she could use the pot as medicine. Ungerbuehler probably sealed his own fate on the drug charge by admitting on the stand that he raised and possessed more than the 15 plants allowed by law for those authorized to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes.

It was a long contentious trial, with some of that acrimony spilling over into Monday.

Deputy prosecutor Karen Platt argued that Ungerbuehler, who’s been out on bail pending trial for two years, should be jailed until sentencing.

“I think it’s time the defendant went into custody,” Platt said.

Berneburg said his client has shown up for every court date and was not a flight risk. He asked Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson to release Ungerbuehler on his personal recognizance.

Cuthbertson said he would allow Ungerbuehler to remain free until sentencing if he obtained a rider from a bail bond company by 3 p.m. today.


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