ELLSWORTH — A Verona Island man convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine was sentenced to two years in prison despite his attorney’s argument that his client is “not violent” but “an addict” who should not be sent to prison, where he’ll be “hardened.”
Justice Robert Murray sentenced Craig Kneeland, 28, on Tuesday to 4½ years in prison with all but two suspended. Kneeland is to serve three years of probation upon his release. He also was ordered to pay restitution totaling $2,476.38 for cleanup costs to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
MDEA agents arrested Kneeland on April 4 of last year after he left a local hardware store with ingredients used to make methamphetamine, including muriatic acid and lithium batteries. A subsequent search of his home yielded 33 plastic bottles used to make meth, police reported.
“Mr. Kneeland is accepting responsibility for his role in operating a meth lab,” said Ellsworth defense attorney Robert Van Horn.
“At the time he had no criminal record,” Van Horn said. “He’s not violent. He’s simply an addict. No one was hurt here. There was no real property damage of any serious amount. We don’t see a good reason for sending this man to prison to become hardened.”
Sentences nine months and under are served at the county jail. Sentences over nine months and a day are served at one of Maine’s state prisons.
Van Horn cited other methamphetamine operation cases with comparable circumstances in which sentences of three years with all but six months suspended were issued.
For Kneeland, a sentence of five years with all but nine months suspended is warranted, Van Horn said.
If the judge had accepted Van Horn’s recommendation, Kneeland would have been freed in two weeks. The father of one has been incarcerated for the last 8½ months at the Hancock County Jail awaiting trial. That’s considered credit for time served.
Maine Assistant Attorney General Janice S. Stuver cited the size of Kneeland’s methamphetamine operation and argued that Kneeland should be sentenced to 10 years in prison with five years suspended.
“This is one of the largest meth lab operations that I myself have prosecuted,” Stuver said.
Stuver told Justice Murray that the next biggest meth operation comparable to Kneeland’s was “13 one-pots. This was over two times that, 33 one-pots.”
A one-pot method refers to the practice of making methamphetamine in soda or juice bottles. The Maine State Police say this is the most common method for making the drug in Maine.
“There were 76 gas generators, which is a pretty good indication this was bigger than a 33 one-pot operation,” Stuver said. “There was a 4-year-old child [not Kneeland’s] in this residence.” There was also a loaded handgun with six rounds of ammunition. The serial number on the gun had been filed off, the prosecutor said.
Van Horn said there was no evidence linking his client to the gun.
The defense attorney said his client is a Bucksport High School graduate and had been a “good student.”
Kneeland was manager of the Bucksport McDonald’s for several years. He worked at The Jackson Laboratory after that.
While incarcerated, Kneeland has been working on his recovery, the defense attorney said. He has participated in Open Door Recovery Center’s program as well as a 42-day inpatient program at St. Francis Recovery Center in Auburn.
Kneeland had a handful of friends and family at the hearing, two of whom spoke on his behalf.
“I’m pretty confident he’s hit his rock bottom and can turn things around,” said his father, Randy Kneeland. “We would love to see him get a chance. We have a home for him. We could get his feet back on the ground pretty quick.”
Family friend George Chase told the judge that Kneeland’s behavior had been “so far out of his character.”
“Out of all the kids we’ve known, we would never ever think he would fall victim to drugs,” Chase said. “We just can’t help think that his son is missing his dad and his dad is missing his son.
“We ask you to give him more time out than in so he can start building his life again. Let him get back to work and get on with his life.”
Kneeland, clad in a navy jail jumpsuit, addressed the judge.
“Things spiraled out of control,” Kneeland said. “I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. I’ve been selfish and careless. I’ve had to go without my son. I know I can do things differently if I get a chance.”
Murray asked Kneeland why he’s confident “things can be different.”
“I really have hit rock bottom,” Kneeland said. “This was a short stint in my life. I know how to be a better person more than I know how to be this person.”
While deciding the sentence, Murray said the court could not “ignore the volume” of the “30-plus one-pots” that agents found.
“The court is very concerned with some of the other factors described,” Murray said. The most serious of those was the presence of a child in the home.
“I also accept the defendant’s statement to the court here in regards to his own recognition that the addiction that has seized him,” Murray said. “You are still a relatively young man and your son still has the opportunity to have the presence of his father in his life. That needs to motivate you more than anything I can do.”
Correction: Craig Kneeland of Verona Island pleaded guilty Jan. 8 to operating a methamphetamine laboratory. A previous headline on this post misstated the charge.