Hung Jury Induces Prosecutors to Drop Their Pot-Growing Case

May 26, 2001

David Sommer

A hung jury in a hard-fought trial over a marijuana charge has prompted prosecutors to drop the matter.

Jesse Prince, a prominent critic of the Church of Scientology, will not be retried on a misdemeanor charge of having a marijuana plant growing in his back yard.

``I felt like enough of this office's time and expense had been put into the case,'' said Assistant State Attorney Lydia Wardell, who prosecuted Prince. Wardell said State Attorney Bernie McCabe approved dismissing the case. Jurors deliberated more than five hours Thursday before announcing they could not reach a verdict, and Pinellas County Judge Michael Andrews declared a mistrial.

Afterward, two jurors said it was clear Prince did have a marijuana plant in his back yard, but they said Scientology's involvement made them wonder whether he had been set up.

An undercover Largo police officer made the arrest in August after being tipped off by a private detective hired by Scientology.

The private detective acknowledged on the witness stand he was hired to befriend Prince and get into his home. The detective also repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked about his own marijuana use.

Mike Rinder, a member of Scientology's board of directors, said the church hired detectives to investigate Prince because he has given what the group calls false testimony in a number of court cases.

Prince is a former high-ranking Scientology official. He is expected to testify against the group at an upcoming civil trial over liability in the 1995 death of member Lisa McPherson.

``If I were the state attorney, I would have [dropped the charge against Prince], too. He's got murderers down there'' to deal with, Rinder said. ``I don't think Bernie McCabe has the time and resources to keep going after someone for marijuana possession. He'll get him next time.''