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MAN NOT GUILTY OF GROWING MARIJUANA

A federal jury Tuesday acquitted an Orchard Park businessman who was accused of growing 125 marijuana plants in a field.

The acquittal of John Chapman Jr., 50, followed a four-day trial that focused on whether the plants were grown by Chapman or someone who planted them on his property without his knowledge.

"I think the government case was incredibly weak," said Marianne Mariano, a federal public defender who represented Chapman. "There was no evidence that John had anything to do with these plants or was ever seen where the plants were growing."

Deputies in an Erie County sheriff's helicopter spotted the plants -- some six to eight feet tall -- while flying over Chapman's land in August 2001. The plants were harvested by deputies and Orchard Park police officers.

Chapman was not charged criminally until 14 months later. Chapman, who operates a stable for race horses on 66 acres off South Abbott Road, maintains that he had no knowledge the plants were there. He did not testify at the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas S. Duszkiewicz presented evidence that the three patches where the plants were found were carefully cultivated and watered, but no witness could testify that Chapman was ever seen with the plants.

"Obviously, the jury bought the 'SODDI' argument -- Some Other Dude Did It," Duszkiewicz said.

The marijuana patches were not visible from Chapman's house, and the property was easily accessible to many people, including hikers and people who rented stable space for their horses, Mariano said.

"The closest plants were more than two football fields away from John's home," Mariano said.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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