Monday August 20, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Last week, a jury found 26-year-old Joshua R. Stratton of Newfane not guilty of aggravated domestic assault and, after the trial, couldn't come to a decision on his guilty of a secondary domestic assault charge, which resulted in a mistrial.

Although the verdict was "a win for justice," according to Stratton's attorney James Valente, Stratton is now facing new, unrelated, charges of marijuana cultivation and possession.

While on break during his trial on Aug., 14, Stratton was formally charged with felony cultivation of 67 plants at his residence along Newfane Hill.

Stratton's fiancée, Lauretta Sheridan, 45, also of Newfane, was charged with aiding in the commission of a felony after allegedly helping Stratton care for the marijuana plants while he was incarcerated.

Because Sheridan has three prior felony convictions in 1995, which include cocaine possession, welfare fraud and false pretenses, she's facing up to life in prison as a habitual offender.

According to the affidavit, on July 25, a member of the Southern Vermont Drug Task Force informed Vermont State Police Det. Tyson Kinney about the cultivation at 165 Newfane Hill Road.

A cooperating individual told the SVDTF agent that Sheridan was growing about 20 plants at her home and that the plants were originally cultivated by Stratton.

Stratton had been in jail since June and Sheridan had apparently taken over care of the plants, the informant told police.

When Kinney and Senior Trooper Max Trenosky arrived at the home on July 26, they found 16 plants outside.

Each of the plants were approximately three-and-a-half feet high growing on the edge of the mowed lawn in small white pots in direct view of the residence, Kinney wrote.

After reviewing Sheridan's police file, Kinney said there was a report from Sheridan dating back to Feb. 7, to the State Police, about Stratton growing marijuana in the basement of the same house on Newfane Hill Road.

Then on Aug. 2, another police agency joined the investigation after Brattleboro Police Officer Andrew Belleville received a report about Stratton growing marijuana.

The information had been intercepted by a member of the Southern State Correctional Facility, when Stratton called Sheridan.

The recorded conversation between the couple features audio of them openly discussion marijuana cultivation including the exact location of plants growing in the woods of the property and how some were larger than others.

Kinney stated the description didn't match the ones he and Trooper Trenosky found. After obtaining a search warrant Kinney and other members of the State Police returned to the home on Aug. 6.

While searching the property, Kinney said they found 67 marijuana plants, marijuana seeds and other paraphernalia.

Sheridan admitted to watering the plants for Stratton and to speaking to him while he was in prison about their care, but stated he was the one who planted them.

If convicted, Stratton is facing up to five years and a $100,000 fine for the cultivation charge.

In addition to the potential life sentence for Sheridan, she's also facing up to a $500,000 fine.

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.