Pubdate: Mon,  9 Sep 2002
Source: Tahoe Daily Tribune (South Lake Tahoe, CA)
Contact:  2002 Tahoe Daily Tribune
Author: William Ferchland 
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Keith Whitaker, a Garden Valley man who has appeared in El Dorado County
Superior Court numerous times on marijuana charges, committed suicide by
hanging himself on a tree branch, authorities said.

Shelly Arnold, a South Lake Tahoe medical marijuana proponent, said she was
surprised to get a call from Whitaker on Wednesday because she thought he
was still in jail.

"He said no matter what, he was facing prison time," Arnold said. "He was
pretty bummed. He called to say hello and let me know his trial was starting
(this week). I think that was pretty much him saying he was outta here."

Whitaker sounded detached and his voice was flat, Arnold said.

Lisa Whitaker, his 35-year-old widow, reportedly woke up about 5 a.m. and
noticed her husband missing from the bed. She searched the house and finally
saw her husband hanging from a tree.

She attempted resuscitation but her efforts failed. Whitaker killed himself
on his youngest son's 13th birthday and also left behind a 16-year-old son,
Arnold said.

Lisa Whitaker would not comment on Friday.

"Right now is not the time," she said. "I can't talk about it right now."

Whitaker's trial for felony cultivation and offering to furnish marijuana
was supposed to begin Tuesday in Placerville. He faced up to three years and
eight months in state prison if convicted.

Jury selection at South Lake Tahoe was twice planned but struck down after
mistrials. The matter was sent back to Placerville, in part to accommodate

"I don't think he was going to state prison if he was convicted," said
prosecutor Eric Schlueter, deputy district attorney for El Dorado County.

Whitaker, 33, and his wife Lisa, who were both accused of growing 40 plants
illegally but have a doctor's prescription to grow, were taken into custody
Sept. 12, 2001.

However, Whitaker faced 11 years and four months in state prison for an
alleged assault on a school bus when he reportedly used his car in attempts
to ram the bus off the road in April.

After the bus stopped at a parking area near Emigrant Trail School and
Sierra Ridge Middle School, Whitaker allegedly sped around the grounds of
both school sites.

Whitaker then played chicken with a patrol car and stopped his escapade when
he halted his 1985 Toyota pickup, deputies said. El Dorado County sheriff's
deputies reportedly found less than a pound of marijuana in the truck.

He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, willful harm or injury to
a child and transportation of marijuana.

Whitaker spent about four months in jail after his April arrest and was
recently released.

Trial was set for Nov. 4 on the assault case.

Deputy District Attorney Richard James was the prosecutor for the assault
case. Jones saw a clean and communicative Whitaker for pretrial motions a
little more than a week ago while he was substituting for Schlueter, the
prosecutor for the marijuana case.

"He seemed to be in good spirits and didn't give any indication that
anything was wrong," Jones said.

A hearing today will decide if the marijuana case will be continued against
Lisa Whitaker or dismissed, Schlueter said.

Arnold said the recent court appearances and past charges on marijuana
cultivation and spousal abuse may have worn Whitaker down. She also
referenced a deteriorating mental condition in Whitaker and said
prescription medication did not help.

"I think he really felt the judicial system had him caught up in the
machinery," Arnold said. "Once you get in, it's hard to get out."
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