Two men who captured a teenager as he allegedly was stealing their medical marijuana landed on the wrong side of the law themselves when they took justice into their own hands, prosecutors say.
"The police would not have had the right to do the things these defendants did," Jackson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Beth Heckert said.
Nicholas R. Jackson, 34, of Medford, and Kekai K. Kuehu, 32, of Ashland, were sentenced Wednesday by Jackson County Circuit Judge Tim Gerking after they tied the 17-year-old to a wheelchair for hours, knocked him in the head with a hammer handle and forced him to dig his own "grave" before letting him go, Heckert said.
Each faced charges of first- and second-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault for their actions in the Nov. 19, 2010, incident. Jackson was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading no contest to the assault charge. Kuehu pleaded guilty to coercion, a lesser charge, and was given a 17-month suspended sentence and placed on three years' supervised probation.
Jackson had hired Kuehu to keep watch over the legal marijuana garden. After hearing noise in the garden, Kuehu pursued two teenagers who entered the site off Meridian Road in Eagle Point between 3 and 4 a.m. Kuehu captured one of the teenagers, took him into a residence and bound his hands and feet with packaging tape and rope.
Kuehu eventually strapped the victim into a wheelchair, covered him with a blanket and left him in a bathroom for several hours while attempting to contact Jackson, Heckert said.
"(Kuehu) said he lost his cellphone during the scuffle, and he had to wait until morning to retrieve it," she said. "Then he had trouble locating Mr. Jackson."
Jackson eventually arrived and began questioning the teen about stealing his marijuana, whacking him on the head with a wooden stick when he didn't like the answers, Heckert said.
"He had lacerations that required stitches," she said.
Jackson also went to the teen's home to search for his marijuana. He told the teen's family that the boy was in the custody of juvenile authorities, "implying the police had been handling the case," Heckert said.
At some point the teen was taken outside and told to dig a hole in the ground meant to represent a grave. Then he was released, barefoot, to walk back to his friend's home four or five miles down the road.
Heckert said both defendants had the right to make a citizen's arrest and even to use force to detain the teen. But they crossed the line when they assaulted him during questioning and made him dig a "grave" before releasing him, she said.
"If you make a citizen's arrest, you have to call the police," Heckert said.
Instead, it was the victim who contacted police, she said. At first police were skeptical about his story. But when they went to Jackson's grow site, officers saw the tape and the wheelchair, and even got a partial admission from Jackson and Kuehu about what had happened. The defendants denied assaulting the teen, and said the boy had offered to dig a hole in the backyard of his own volition, Heckert said.
"This was a very strange case," Heckert said.
Jackson and Kuehu originally were held on $2 million bail each. Neither of the 17-year-olds was charged with a crime.
Second-degree assault typically carries a minimum sentence of five years, 10 months, under Measure 11 sentencing guidelines. Gerking said Jackson qualified to receive a milder sentence because of a "safety valve" written into the law that allows judges to impose lesser sentences on offenders who have little or no criminal history. Jackson is free on bail and must report to prison Oct. 1.
"I'm not going to scold you," Gerking said. "I'm just really sad to have to do this."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.