MACON — During the summer of 2014, law enforcement agents with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, while flying in a helicopter, spotted marijuana growing in a garden near a home in Macon.
This led to a search warrant and the discovery, authorities say, of 85 marijuana plants growing outside the home along Old Macon Road. The plants weighed more than 170 pounds, according to court documents.
Officers with the state Bureau of Narcotics arrested the woman who lived at the home: Ruth Daniels, a then-69-year-old widow with no prior felonies on her record.
She claimed she did not plant the marijuana.
Daniels was indicted on one count of trafficking/manufacturing more than one kilogram of marijuana. Prosecutors eventually offered her a plea deal and she took it, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of possessing more than five kilograms of marijuana.
She entered a guilty plea on Sept. 30, 2015. According to court documents, she told Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens that day that while she did not plant the marijuana in her garden, she watered the stalks and occasionally drank tea made with the leaves.
Kitchens, though, told Daniels he was going to hold off on accepting the plea until her sentencing hearing on March 18, 2016.
“I think there’s some indication that there’s another guilty party in this case,” he told her, according to court transcripts. “And it’s probably your daughter. Is that right?”
“Yes, sir,” Daniels said.
Kitchens said he would withhold accepting the guilty plea “to see what events unfold by March.”
Daniels’ defense attorney later said the judge was waiting to see if Daniels’ daughter, who lives in California, was going to come to Mississippi and accept some responsibility for the marijuana plants.
“I’m going to find out what kind of child you raised,” Kitchens told Daniels, according to the transcript. “And I guess you’re going to find out a little bit what kind of child you raised, too, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir,” Daniels said.
Daniels’ daughter never came to Mississippi.
On March 18, Kitchens sentenced Daniels, now 70, to a decade in prison.
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Mark Cliett, the court-appointed defense attorney for Daniels, did not respond to repeated messages for this story.
According to court transcripts, Cliett said he had spoken to Daniels’ daughter, who said she “indicated that she’s willing to accept responsibility for at least her share.”
The Dispatch on Friday spoke to Enge Daniels, the only daughter of Ruth Daniels.
She lives in the Bay Area in California, where she is an Uber driver. She said she did not plant the marijuana at her mother’s home in Macon. She claims she moved to California in February 2014, months before the marijuana found at her mother’s residence was planted.
“Initially, I was going to go and take the rap for my mother,” Enge Daniels said. “But they told me that if they can prove that I was in California when all of this happened — which I was — then I would go to jail too, for perjury, and then I couldn’t help my mom from in there.”
Enge Daniels has a license to grow marijuana in California, but claims to have never planted any in Mississippi. She said she suspects another family member planted what was found at her mother’s home.
She also said she knows for sure that her mother did not plant it.
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In March, when Ruth Daniels was sentenced to prison, Cliett asked Kitchens to consider “something less than incarceration,” such as probation or house arrest, according to court transcripts.
Kitchens, though, seemed concerned about the amount found growing at Daniels’ home.
“(In 20 years), I don’t remember too many cases where I’ve had 179 pounds of marijuana or 173 pounds of marijuana,” the judge said, according to court transcripts. “I think I’ve had some, maybe one or two, that’s been around that amount … Usually when you have that much marijuana, you’re selling it. I don’t know anybody that smokes 173 pounds of marijuana.”
Cliett told Kitchens there was no evidence Daniels was selling the marijuana. He noted, too, that “food items were in the same garden” where agents with the Bureau of Narcotics found the marijuana. (A spokesperson with the bureau said it is not uncommon for agents to patrol for marijuana plants via helicopters between April and September, when the plant is primarily cultivated.) Other than watering the marijuana, Cliett said, Daniels had not done anything wrong, according to court transcripts.
Kitchens, in addition to 10 years in prison, sentenced Daniels to five years of post-release supervision. He did not impose a fine.
Daniels is in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County today.
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Ruth Daniels had been living in Macon since the early 2000s, when she moved there to care for an elderly relative, according to Enge Daniels.
She said her mother grows her own food and often gives it away. She claimed her mother has received awards and recognition for the size of the watermelons she grows.
“Everyone knows her,” her daughter said. “She’s a health nut. She’s all about eating right and taking her vitamins and she doesn’t do prescription drugs or anything like that. My mom’s never even had a parking ticket.”
Enge Daniels said she and other family members want to find Daniels a new lawyer and have her examined by a medical professional.
Ruth Daniels is eligible for parole in September 2018, according to a Mississippi Department of Corrections spokesperson.
Enge Daniels said she is afraid her mother will not make it that long.
“Not without taking her vitamins and all that stuff,” she said. “I mean, I’d like to think that she will. But my mom — the way she eats and the way the food is in there — her body is just going to decline. … And I’m so scared that I’m going to lose my mom in there.”
“I don’t know what to do,” Enge Daniels added. “I’m trying to make money so I can get another lawyer, but she shouldn’t be in there. She really should not be in there.”
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