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Trial pushed in ‘Kettle Falls 5’ case

The controversial federal trial of a marijuana growing co-operative calling themselves the “Kettle Falls 5” has been delayed so that defense attorneys can review new evidence obtained by prosecutors.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle granted a continuance of the trial last week. The case, brought by federal prosecutors against five Stevens County residents who say they were legally growing marijuana on property in rural Stevens County to treat medical conditions, could have far-reaching implications for the state’s budding pot industry.

The defendants face several criminal counts that carry mandatory sentences of 10 years in prison. A new trial date has not been set as attorneys review electronic materials they say prosecutors made available to them earlier this month. The trial had originally been scheduled to begin Monday.

Federal judge says witnesses can talk about houseboat shooting in assault case

Jurors in a federal case against a man who allegedly assaulted a National Park Service ranger last fall can hear details of the officer-involved shooting that followed, a federal judge ruled this week.

Michael Sublie faces criminal charges stemming from a confrontation on his houseboat moored at the Kettle River Campground in September. Ranger Matthew Phillipson claimed he heard pops after he said Sublie shoved his partner, Joshua Wentz, from the boat's gangplank during an altercation about loud music being played after campground quiet hours. Phillipson fired, striking boat occupant Casey Hartinger in the side.

U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush is hearing the case. In a pretrial conference last week at the federal courthouse in Spokane, Quackenbush heard arguments from defense attorney Roger Peven and U.S. Assistant Attorney Tyler Tornabene on the admissibility of testimony about the shooting.

The government said the shooting followed the alleged criminal activity, and thus should not be discussed at trial because it might prejudice a jury. Peven said the alleged assault and shooting took place at the same time and information about both should be admitted at trial.

“I contend they were contemporaneous, at worst,” Peven told Quackenbush last week. He said the events transpired in less time than it took to recount them.

Quackenbush said he had to determine whether the testimony about the shooting, as Hartinger is planned to be called as a witness, “would generate more heat than light.”

In a written ruling issued Monday, Quackenbush ruled limited testimony about the shooting would be allowed. Any discussion of whether the shooting was justified, that Phillipson acted negligently or used excessive force will not be allowed in the courtroom as that is the subject of an ongoing internal investigation and the parties are mulling civil action, Quackenbush said.

“None of those issues are before this court,” Quackenbush wrote.

Peven had also objected to an investigative agent from the National Park Service being allowed to sit at the prosecution's table during the trial. Quackenbush disagreed with Peven, and the agent will be allowed to confer with Tornabene throughout the trial.

Another conference is scheduled for mid-May, with a jury trial expected to begin later that month. Sublie faces up to a year-and-a-half in jail if convicted.

Shooting Story That Crashed SR.com

Here's the story that crashed SR.com & Huckleberries this morning after a link was posted on The Drudge Report. The SR.com link now has 673 comments:

The Kettle Falls man shot by park rangers at a campground over the weekend had been standing alongside his 9-year-old son when the bullet tore into his torso, family members say. Few details of the shooting have been disclosed by the National Park Service or investigators with the Washington State Patrol. The shooting injured Casey Hartinger, 43. It happened after a Saturday night confrontation between rangers and another man who owns a houseboat that was moored at the Kettle River Campground within the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. At least one park ranger boarded the houseboat in response to a noise complaint/Kip Hill, SR. More here.

Question: Do you understand why people are so excited about this story?

Polar bear scientist based in Kettle Falls finalist for prize

WILDLIFE SCIENCE — A Kettle Falls-area polar bear scientist is one of 29 leading conservationists internationally who are in contention for next year’s $100,000 Indianapolis Prize.

Steven Amstrup moved to Stevens County about a year ago when he retired from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center in Anchorage.

Thanks to an accommodating polar bear, he arrived with both legs.

Read the story by S-R reporter John Craig.

Lake Roosevelt drawdown reveals hint of Kettle Falls

FISHING/BOATING — The water level in Lake Roosevelt (behind Grand Coulee Dam) today is elevation 1,218 feet. 

That's 72 feet below full pool.

Anglers say fishing is spotty.  Boaters say launching is difficult to impossible because the water level is below all of the reservoir's boat ramps.

“Upstream of the two bridges (Highway 20), most of Hayes Island and the beginning of the historic Kettle Falls is just starting to show,” said local resident and Facebook friend J. Foster Fanning, who snapped the photo above this morning.