For the past 19 months, Dave McDonald’s life has had more twists and turns than those of your average 72-year-old Marin resident, or even a man half his age.
McDonald was sentenced this week to three years probation for selling a pound of fake methamphetamine to undercover drug agents, a felony that could have meant a three-year prison term, in March 2011. But while the punishment is serious and McDonald intends to appeal the case, an outcome of no additional jail time pales in comparison to the ominous legal mess the Fairfax resident faced in the weeks after his arrest.
Following the of the Pleasure Principle, the downtown novelty shop he owned for nearly 50 years, law enforcement officials said McDonald was found in possession of 15 to 20 pounds of methamphetamine or meth precursor ephedrine. He initially faced eight felony charges.
In one of several complicated twists in the case, those substances tested negative for both of the alleged narcotics, and the eight felony charges McDonald initially faced were knocked down to three that focused more on his intent rather than the actual sale of illegal drugs. Of those charges - one count of selling a fake narcotic and two counts of possession of phenylpropanolamine with intent to sell it knowing that it would be used to make meth – McDonald was convicted of only the first one.
Public defender Michael Coffino, who took over McDonald’s case earlier this year, had sought an acquittal on all three charges and asked Judge Paul Haakenson for a new trial, but was denied.
Coffino plans to file a notice of intent to appeal the case, and the San Francisco-based First District Appeals Project, which handles represents indigent appellants in the First District Court of Appeal. The non-profit law office will either file an appeal or a so-called Wende brief, which an attorney files when no arguable appellate issues can be identified.
Even if the appellate court doesn’t reverse McDonald’s conviction, he avoids going to prison, a move that brings him great relief after his three-month stint was released from Marin County Jail during which he said he said he lost more than 30 pounds because he couldn’t get access to a vegetarian meal.
“It looked a lot more dire than it ended up, that’s for sure,” Coffino said. “But as the evidence started coming in, I became more and more optimistic on his chances and a full acquittal seemed possible.”
McDonald called the entire case “bogus” and said it largely amounted to law enforcement officers who were unwilling to drop the case when they realized their case was unraveling with negative drug tests.
Although prosecutors in August withdrew their petition for McDonald to forfeit the $29,215 in cash seized during the investigation, McDonald has yet to receive the money back. Most of that money belonged to his brother and his creditors, he said.
He said he is unsure if he’ll open another novelty shop again. McDonald’s landlord for Pleasure Principle shop at 74 Throckmorton Ave., former Pacific Sun publisher Steve McNamara, evicted him at the end of March 2011 for failure to pay rent but had already begun eviction proceedings prior to the raid and subsequent arrest. Tibet Bazaar now occupies the retail space.
McDonald is now working on a book of poetry entitled Poignantly Pungent Parables and hopes to find someone to collaborate on a book project about his ordeal. McDonald said he is proud that he did not take earlier advice to admit wrongdoing to avoid an extended legal process.
“There is no more stubborn set of genes on the planet than mine,” McDonald said. “A lot of people would admit to something they didn't do just to make it go away. I wasn’t going to do that.”