Judge delays Stephens drug sentencing

MARIETTA – A Belpre man accused of drug trafficking had his Friday morning sentencing in Washington County Common Pleas Court postponed because of uncertainty about an upcoming probation violation hearing in Athens County.

Kenneth A. Stephens, 26, of 705 Elm St., is under supervision in Washington County for an April 2011 theft conviction in Athens County, said Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider.

An Athens County judge could choose to revoke that supervision and send Stephens to prison because he violated probation when he was arrested Feb. 2 in Belpre for allegedly trafficking in crack cocaine.

If supervision is revoked, it could affect Stephens’ punishment here in Washington County, noted Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane.

“What I’d like to do is send Mr. Stephens to the county jail for six months and then to SEPTA. I can’t very well do that at this point,” said Lane.

If Lane sentenced Stephens Friday and Athens County later revoked his supervision, it would basically negate Lane’s punishment, said Schneider.

Stephens pleaded guilty May 16 in Washington County Common Pleas Court to trafficking in drugs, a fourth-degree felony.

On Feb. 2, Stephens sold five grams of crack cocaine to a confidential informant with the Major Crimes Task Force, said Schneider.

Later that same night, Stephens’ home was the subject of a search warrant where agents recovered the $400 “buy money” and learned that two juveniles had been present during the earlier sale, he said.

During the search, agents also confiscated a metal pipe belonging to Keri Ann LaFatch, 35, of the same address. The pipe tested positive for cocaine and LaFatch was charged with possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

Paperwork has been submitted to Marietta Municipal Court to allow her to plead guilty to a reduced first-degree misdemeanor charge of attempted possession of cocaine, but she has yet to plead to that charge, said Schneider.

Stephens faces 18 months in prison on the felony charge in Washington County.

Schneider recommended 10 months in prison Friday.

But Stephens’ attorney Claire Ball argued that his client would be a good candidate for SEPTA Correctional Facility, which offers a drug rehabilitation program.

“We think it would be a benefit to him and to the community,” said Ball.

Lane agreed, pointing to Stephens’ lack of a criminal record.

“His record isn’t extensive. He’s basically a bad driver,” Lane said.

Stephens’ probation violation hearing in Athens is scheduled for July 31, but Ball said he was meeting with Athens prosecutors later Friday and would likely know what punishment Athens County had in that same day.

If Athens opts not to send Stephens to prison, Lane plans to sentence him to six months in the Washington County Jail and then to a five month SEPTA program, he said.

Lane ordered that Stephens’ sentencing be rescheduled for Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

“We’ll know then what Athens is doing and we can have him the county jail to transfer when they need him,” he said.