Judge rejects plea bargain involving heroin sale in Belmont

LACONIA — A Belknap County Superior Court judge rejected a Brooklyn, N.Y woman's attempt to plead guilty to one count of possession of heroin yesterday, telling her he found the negotiated plea that allowed for seven months of her 12 month sentence be suspended was inadequate.

Judge James O'Neill told Heather Cleveland, 27, that he would accept a 12 month sentence if all of it was served. He also said that if she successfully completed the ADAPT drug and alcohol abuse program while in jail, he would agree to allow the rest of her sentence to be suspended.

He agreed with both the prosecutor and Cleveland's defense counsel Wade Harwood that prison was not appropriate.

O'Neill also asked Prosecutor Carley Ahern if the Belmont Police were in agreement with the proffered sentence and she replied that they took no position.

Cleveland was arrested on September 4, 2013 by two Belmont Police officers who were working a drug detail in the village. According to affidavits obtained in September from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, the police saw a car idling in front of 125 Main St.

Cleveland came from the house and got into the car that headed down Main Street but didn't have its head lights on.

During the stop, an officer posted behind the car but out of eyesight of Cleveland said he saw a movement that looked like her taking a bottle from the back seat of the car and putting it into to center console.

The driver of the car gave police permission to search it and police recovered the bottle, finding 53 paper packages. A random sample of four of them at the state lab showed they contained heroin.

Yesterday, Ahern said the total weight of the heroin was 2.04 grams. When Judge O'Neill asked what the approximate street value was, Atty. Wade Harwood said it was about $200.

Harwood said he and Ahern worked to craft a sentence that would be rehabilitative and there were suppression issues that could be raised should the case go to trial, meaning in his opinion some or all of the evidence may be excluded from the jury because of the way it was obtained.

He said Cleveland had no criminal record, was the mother of two children, and was working during the time she was arrested. Harwood also noted she volunteered in her church and collected items for Hurricane Sandy survivors.

Cleveland told the judge tearfully that she "was committed to turning herself around" and that heroin possession was a selfish act that hurt her family. She also accepted responsibility for her actions.

"I learned I don't want to become the person I was becoming," she said.

Cleveland has been in the Belknap County House of Corrections since her arrest and is credited with 90 days of pretrial confinement. Had O'Neill accepted the plea as negotiated, she would have served two more months.

It is not known if she and Harwood will reconsider O'Neill's offer or go to trial.