Craig An assortment of friends and family Wednesday praised the character of a 34-year-old Craig man convicted of drug distribution and asked a Moffat County District Court judge to impose a sentence other than prison time.
A jury convicted Russell McDiffett in November of distribution of a Schedule 2 controlled substance, a Class 3 felony.
McDiffett appeared Wednesday with his attorney, Larry Combs, and supporters.
He was one of several people the All Crimes Enforcement Team arrested last year on drug-related charges. The charges stemmed from an investigation into area cocaine and methamphetamine distribution.
McDiffett, authorities said, was involved in the transaction of about half an ounce of methamphetamine.
Michael O'Hara, chief judge of the 14th Judicial District, and the presiding judge at McDiffett's trial, sentenced the defendant to five years community corrections.
O'Hara's sentence followed witness testimonies and arguments from Combs and prosecutor Jeremy Snow.
McDiffett's mother, Susan A. Spencer, asked the court to sentence her son to probation. She described her son as a "wonderful person" who has a "big heart."
She said having a felony conviction would be difficult on him as he tries to rebuild his life.
"I feel that the felony conviction is punishment for the rest of his life," she said.
"It's going to be hard for him, and that's punishment in itself."
Roberta Harper, who worked with McDiffett at Craig Middle School where he was once a custodian, said she has known the man for about 20 years. She also testified Wednesday and said McDiffett was helpful and kind to other people.
"I know Rusty is a good person," she said.
Combs told the court that McDiffett has learning and comprehension difficulties and faced other challenges throughout his life.
Despite those challenges, he has worked hard and "overcome" them, his attorney said.
McDiffett has had no serious convictions in his past, Combs said.
"He's never been considered a criminal or a bad person," the defense attorney said while lobbying the court for a probation sentence. "He's truthful, he's honest."
But, the picture painted by the witnesses and defense was much different than the one Snow presented to the court.
He said the defense's assertion that McDiffett was someone victimized by circumstances was inaccurate.
"That's the appearance the defense wants you to believe, but that's not the reality," said Snow, who characterized the defendant as someone who had used drugs, associated with drug users and participated in an activity - distribution - that is harmful to the community.
"I want to dispel the notion that somehow Rusty was a victim in this case," the prosecutor added. ": He has been enmeshed in the drug world for a long time."
Snow recommended a four-year prison sentence.
"We believe (prison) is the appropriate sentence for all drug dealers," he said.
However, he told O'Hara that if the judge was unwilling to consider a prison sentence, the District Attorney's Office would like a six-year community corrections sentence.
McDiffett's lack of a prior criminal history was a factor in the judge's sentencing decision.
Had McDiffett been convicted of a serious crime before, the "conversation would be about the length of prison time you would be serving," O'Hara told the defendant.
Methamphetamine, the judge said, is a detriment to the community.
"Half an ounce goes a long way toward wreaking havoc : on families in this county, and I see that every day as a judge," he said.
McDiffett will live at Correctional Alternative Placement Services in Craig for at least six months and will be allowed outside employment. If he violates any conditions, he could serve the remainder of his sentence in prison, the judge warned.
After the sentence was imposed, a Moffat County Sheriff's Office deputy took McDiffett into custody, pending the availability of an open bed at the CAPS facility.