Fired Jackson County deputy Zachary Wester, 28, was sentenced on Tuesday to more than a decade in prison for planting drugs on innocent people during traffic stops.
With 58 days of jail credit, Wester has to spend a total of 12 years, six months, and eight days locked up on charges including racketeering, official misconduct, perjury, fabricating evidence, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and false imprisonment.
Prosecutor Tom Williams requested 15 years behind bars, with defense lawyer Ryan Davis working toward the minimum sentencing of 81.4 months (more than six years).
Wester was originally charged with planting drugs on 12 people, but he was only convicted on three cases: that of Joshua Emmanuel, Teresa Odom, and Steven Vann. His M.O. was to pretend to smell drugs, then act like he legitimately found meth or marijuana in the victim vehicles, prosecutors said.
“You’ve robbed me of my credibility, and [as] a mother and a grandmother for the last three years,” Odom said in a brief statement before the court. “I probably missed a year and a half of my grandbaby’s life because of this. I wish you no ill will, and you’ll never know what you’ve done to me until you have children of your own.”
Jackson Circuit Court Judge James Goodman mentioned receiving a letter each from Odom and Vann. These were not read in court. Neither were the dozens of letters written on Wester’s behalf. Goodman said the number was closer to 50.
Wester’s wife and several others spoke on behalf of the disgraced deputy’s behalf. Loved ones described him in glowing terms as loyal and a supportive member of the community.
“He is a rock and he is a tremendous helper, not only in my own personal life, but he is my friend, my brother, and my closest ally,” said Brandon McDonnell.
“There’s a verse in the Bible that reminds me of the dedication that Zach exemplifies in everything he does,” said wife Rebecca Wester. “Isaiah 6:8 says, ‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am! Send me.”‘ This is a verse that embodies Zach in whatever aspect in life he has been called to, whether that be his job, his church, his community, or his family. His answer has and always will be, ‘Here I am. Send me.'”
Wester did not speak before the court. Ultimately, Goodman gave more weight to the state’s request and handed down a sentence closer to the requested 15 years.
“The defendant’s criminal conduct represents an egregious breach of the public trust,” said prosecutor Williams.
[Screengrab via Tallahassee Democrat]
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