Sheriff confirms 100 pounds of marijuana missing

NORWALK The Huron County Sheriff's office confirmed Thursday about 100 pounds of confiscated marijua
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

NORWALK

The Huron County Sheriff's office confirmed Thursday about 100 pounds of confiscated marijuana was stolen from the Huron County Shady Lane Complex barn. The marijuana taken was evidence in a large-scale drug possession trial that unfolded this week.

A door that was boarded up with a sheet of plywood Wednesday was repaired by Thursday.

The door was damaged when it was pried open during the break-in, which occurred Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, said Huron County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Bob Sutherland.

Authorities described the timing of the break-in as suspicious.

The marijuana was stolen less than 20 hours after the man on trial for possessing it saw where it was stashed.

John Nunley Jr., 35, of Toledo was taken to the barn Tuesday along with 12 jurors to see the physical evidence in the case against him.

Authorities say they caught Nunley transporting the 165 pounds of marijuana into Norwalk in September.

"It's very suspicious. We can only speculate, but no one had any idea where the evidence was being stored. The defendant was here, his attorney was here, the jury was here -- we can only speculate that somebody with the case was involved," Sutherland said.

The marijuana was originally kept inside the Sheriff's office evidence locker, but mold spores started growing on the drug, and authorities were concerned its fumes would be toxic. They moved the four huge trash bags full of the contraband to the complex barn where it was protected by a set of locks, authorities said.

Those locks were no match for motivated thieves, whose criminal activity was not detected until 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The jury and Nunley were taken to the barn to view the evidence because of the potential for toxic fumes. Authorities said they did not wish to bring the moldy marijuana into a poorly ventilated court room.

"We received documentation from the (Drug Enforcement Agency) that those toxins could be harmful to people," Sutherland said.

But while the drugs were stolen right out from under the noses of law enforcement, authorities said the investigation was coming along.

Investigators found several latent prints they hope to match to the thieves using a criminal database.

If caught, the pot pinchers will likely face charges of burglary, tampering with evidence and distribution. Nunley, who was found guilty of felony possession Wednesday, will be in deeper legal trouble if authorities establish he played a role in the marijuana's disappearance.

"If the burglary leads back to him, there'll be additional charges," Sutherland said.

Nunley's attorney, James VanDeilen, denies his client's involvement in the disappearance.

"I know everybody's drawing the inference that it must have been my guy, or this organization or something -- but I'm telling you, it did him more harm than good for happening," VanDeilen said.

VanDeilen said he was unable to effectively cross-examine a fingerprint analyst who took the stand. That was because VanDeilen said the judge put a gag order on any mention of the missing evidence, which included a bag authorities say carried Nunley's fingerprint.

"My client was convicted for the fingerprint on a bag that was found around the marijuana. That bag evidently was taken along with some marijuana, the night of the break in," VanDeilen said. "Had it not been taken, I would have introduced the bag where the fingerprint was allegedly found, but I was precluded by the court from even going there."

VanDeilen hinted that this case might be appealed.

Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler did not return calls Thursday.