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 sentenced Sept. 28 on one count of unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance. His lawyer, Jay Berneburg, said in court that Ungerbuehler likely qualifies for first-time offender status and a sentence of zero to 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 after the reading of the verdict.
Jurors deliberated for two hours after a three-week trial before rejecting the prosecutions argument that Ungerbuehler, whos traveled the world playing rock n roll, was the leader of a marijuana-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 marijuana so she could use it 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 contentious trial, with some of that acrimony spilling over into Monday.
Deputy prosecutor Karen Platt argued that Ungerbuehler, whos been out on bail pending trial for two years, should be jailed until sentencing.
I think its time the defendant went into custody, Platt said.
Berneburg said his client had 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 could persuade a bail bond company to ensure his appearance at sentencing by adding a rider to his previous bail amount. The defendant did so and remains free until sentencing.