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Sonoma County jury acquits four in alleged pot robbery

Sonoma County jurors acquitted four Texans charged in connection with an alleged robbery during a marijuana deal, finding them not guilty of all charges, court officials said.

Two men, a Sonoma County resident and another from San Francisco, had accused the out-of-state visitors of double crossing them at a Camp Meeker home Aug. 28 during a marijuana sale, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. A neighbor called 911 after one of the residents ran onto the property and said he and his friend had been tied up.

Prosecutors argued two of the four Texans went to the Camp Meeker house to buy cannabis from an unlicensed illegal pot operation, but the visitors instead robbed them.

The other two defendants were not present, but they were charged with robbery under allegations they were involved in plans to commit crimes.

The jury returned a verdict to acquit Thursday after about two hours of deliberation, declining to convict based on the evidence presented against the defendants during the three-week trial — among the first taking place after the pandemic halt to trials was lifted in March.

Dallas residents Rashad Lang, 27, his brother Rodney Ross, 28, Robert Evans and Sheridane Gusters, both 38, were cleared of all crimes. Lang, Ross and Evans, who had been in jail nearly six months while Gusters was out, were set free.

The alleged victims didn’t cooperate with prosecutors and refused to testify in court, including one who failed to follow a court order to appear for the case, Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said.

Prosecutors claimed 45 pounds of marijuana found in their hotel rooms had been taken during the Camp Meeker encounter. The defendants also had about $20,000 in cash, though it wasn’t determined where this money originated, officials said.

“We looked at the totality of the evidence and we felt there were four people who came from Texas to commit a home invasion burglary,” Staebell said. “The jury disagreed. We totally respect their decision.”

Defense attorney Orchid Vaghti said her client, Lang, had been at the grocery market in Occidental when the Camp Meeker encounter took place. Vaghti said he was forthright about coming to California to buy marijuana but claimed the alleged victims were being dishonest about the encounter.

“They came here to buy pot and tour the weed industry here — it is not uncommon for people to come to the Bay Area to see what it’s all about,” said Vaghti, who said her client got on a plane the day he was released to go home to see his young daughters.

Attorney Gabriel Quinnan, who represented Evans, said the case had a “deficit of evidence” exacerbated by the fact the alleged victims refused to cooperate.

Quinnan questioned why the District Attorney’s Office would move forward with what he viewed as a weak case during the pandemic, when trial delays meant his client and the others spent added time in jail and safety precautions added burdens on the jury.

“The whole thing was onerous, uncomfortable, unfair,” Quinnan said. “It was an overreach, and that’s what the jury concluded as well.”

Deputy Public Defender Molly Martin, who represented Ross, said she believed deputies were misled by the alleged victims and said the case should have been dismissed after they refused to cooperate.

“This was a failure to fairly evaluate this case against my client,” Martin said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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