The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Friday, January 4, 2013
By KEN BRADLEY - Staff Writer
A Wirtz man received suspended sentences for manufacturing moonshine without a license and possession of a sawed-off shotgun Thursday in Franklin County Circuit Court.
Lester Ray Hodges, 44, was sentenced to eight years in prison and a $2,000 fine on the firearms charge. All eight years were suspended, and $1,000 of the $2,000 fine was also suspended.
Circuit Court Judge Stacey Moreau also sentenced Hodges to two years in prison and a $500 fine for manufacturing moonshine without a license. The two years were suspended, as well as the $500 fine.
Moreau placed Hodge on probation for 18 months and ordered him to be of good behavior for 10 years.
The judge also told Hodge he must enter into any program ordered by the probation office.
Prior to sentencing, Hodge's attorney Melissa Keene called two character witnesses to testify in addition to Hodge.
Hodge's daughter-in-law, Lindsey Hodge, testified that Lester Hodge provided daycare for her three children free of charge while she worked.
She said she had never seen Lester Hodge drink alcohol and that her children "love him."
A minister testified that he had known Lester Hodge for about 23 years and that Hodge had done carpentry work at his church.
"In my 23 years of knowing Lester, I have never even seen or heard him use profanity," the minister said.
Lester Hodge testified that he has no criminal record other than two speeding tickets.
Hodge said he sometimes has difficulty expressing his thoughts because he gets nervous. He said it's hard for him to find a job because "there's certain things I can't do."
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Deatherage told Hodge, "It looks to me like you are a good person. But I'm concerned about your alcohol use."
Hodge said he hasn't taken a drink of alcohol since June when he was charged with the offenses.
"It is perplexing that you are here," Moreau told Hodge. "But you do have an alcohol problem. That's what got your here."
Hodge was also initially charged with possession of a firearm in close proximity of the illegal manufacturing of alcohol and possession of illegally acquired alcohol.
Those charges were dropped through a plea agreement.
The charges against Hodge were placed after agents with the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) went to his residence on June 25, 2012, and asked permission to search the home.
Hodge consented and agents found a 55-gallon mash barrel, propane tanks, some mash and 13 gallons of alcohol.