Pubdate: Wed, 21 Apr 1999
Source: Dubuque Telegraph Herald
Author: Shannon Henson


Reversed conviction: Sharkey says the plants were just ditchweed and he was
maliciously prosecuted

Every man gets his chance in court to defend himself. Gregory Sharkey
started his second chance on Tuesday.

Opening arguments and the first day of testimony took place Tuesday in
Dubuque County District Court in the retrial of Sharkey, 48, formerly of 966
Liberty St. He is charged with possession of marijuana with intent to
deliver and manufacturing of marijuana.

Sharkey was arrested after a search of his residence in October 1995
produced 380 grams of marijuana, paraphernalia and 66 marijuana plants.

Sharkey, who represented himself, was convicted of those charges in December
1996 and sentenced to 15 years in prison on each count.

In 1998 the Iowa Supreme Court reversed the conviction and remanded the case
back to Dubuque County, saying Sharkey's Sixth Amendment right to counsel
was violated because a sufficient inquiry into his understanding of legal
representation was not conducted.

In the 10 months proceeding his first trial, Sharkey fired or declined the
representation of no less than five attorneys.

He is defending himself in this trial as well.

Attorney Phil Jensen had been given the case, but Sharkey filed a motion to
remove him. Jensen remains in the courtroom at the request of Dubuque County
District Judge Lawrence Fautsch, who said Jensen will serve as a stand-by

On Tuesday, Assistant County Attorney Tim Gallagher told the jurors in a
10-minute opening argument that the case is based on the testimony of law
enforcement officers who executed the search warrant and discovered the
evidence at Sharkey's residence.

Addressing the jurors wearing jeans, with a hair comb sticking out of a back
pocket, Sharkey spent an hour and a half in opening arguments telling them
he was entrapped by law enforcement and was previously convicted as a result
of malicious prosecution.

In the rambling opening, Sharkey also alluded to disputes he had with the
City of Dubuque in the early to mid-1990s over the zoning of his land. He
said the marijuana seized on his property was merely ditchweed and that the
initial judge was unfair because he wanted to appear tough on drugs.

The gray-haired, pony-tailed man went on to say that he was given 500 pages
of documentation from his first trial on Monday and that Fautsch had not
given him enough time to examine the documents.

"The judge doesn't want me to go through the transcripts," Sharkey said.
"I'd like to poll the jury. How many of you think that ruling should stand?"

Gallagher objected and Fautsch agreed with him.

"See," Sharkey said to the jury, "they won't even let you speak."

The sole witness of the day was Capt. Don Vrotsos, project director of the
Dubuque Drug Task Force. He was one of the officers who executed the search
warrant at Sharkey's property.

Vrotsos, during more than four hours of testimony, said the street value of
the marijuana seized was $100,000. He believed the plants were cultivated
because mulch was surrounding some of them.

Sharkey, who repeatedly objected to Vrotsos' testimony because he had not
testified in his first trial, kept asking Vrotsos if he could ascertain the
quality of marijuana or differentiate between imported or home-grown.

"I can tell you it's marijuana," Vrotsos said matter-of-factly.

When Vrotsos could not remember a few details about the case, Sharkey said a
long-time effect of smoking marijuana is memory deterioration. Could that be
why he could not remember, he asked.

Vrotsos replied indignantly that he had never smoked marijuana and that he
has executed roughly 100 search warrants since the one at Sharkey's

The trial continues today.

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