The Lawton, Oklahoma courtroom of Judge Emmitt Tayloe had standing room only on October 19, 2016. Before hearing the plea reversal request from Marine veteran, Kris Lewandowski, Judge Tayloe and prosecutor Jordan Cabelka handled the sentencing of a man in an orange jump suit. A man who admitted to violently murdering his unarmed, innocent best friend, and then dragging his body to a shed in the backyard and setting it on fire.
The victim’s mother and grandmother sat in the front row and listened as both the Judge and prosecutor talked to the man in the orange jumpsuit with respect, referencing him as “sir” and treating him with regard. The women then had their chance to address the defendant who murdered their only son, and grandson. The women’s statements told of how their family had welcomed the man into their home, had him for Christmas, how a young boy who thought he was a friend to his father, would now grow up with only memories of a vicious and hideous betrayal, ending in the violent murder of his dad. A memory that would haunt he and the family forever, a deed that took a man’s life and destroyed their family.
The defendant showed no remorse, and the process went quickly. The Judge even wished him well after sentencing him not to life, not to death, but to a sentence less severe than the one the court and prosecutor are pursuing for Kristoffer John Lewandowski, the next defendant to be heard that day. Kris is an honorably discharged combat veteran who is facing life in prison for growing six marijuana plants to treat his PTSD.
The victim’s family then left the courtroom, followed by three family members of the convicted murderer.
Kris, in his dress shirt and pants, a three combat tour, honorably discharged Marine veteran was treated with no regard that October day. He was talked to with disdain, and even disrespect at times. Unlike the convicted murderer in the orange jump suit before him, there was no respectful “sir” directed at Mr. Lewandowski, only promises that he wouldn’t “take up any more of the Court’s time” and prosecutor statements that mocked the Marine and his confirmed medical condition. Scathing judgements in court about Kris wearing a “Cheech and Chong t-shirt” to his kid’s school, and statements meant to attack his personal character and moral integrity beat the veteran down publicly, and on record.
After graduating high school in Colorado, Kris Lewandowski wanted to serve his community as a police officer. He attended and graduated from the Law Enforcement Academy at Red Rocks Community College in 2003. His path was set it seemed , but 9/11 lingered in his mind and changed that decision. Like so many, after the attack on his home soil, Kris wanted to serve not just his community, but his country, so he decided to join the United States Marines Corps in 2005. His first tour of duty shortly after was in Iraq.
When he returned to the states, he met his future wife, Whitney. They married in 2010, and Kris would go on to serve two more tours overseas with the Corps. After injuries to his shoulder, back, and progressing PTSD that seemed to only worsen with prescribed pharmaceuticals, Kris was medically retired and honorably discharged. The discharge deepened his already overwhelming addiction to the legal opioids that he was being prescribed, “The pills were making things worse, it wasn’t making it better. I was sad, I was mad, and the PTSD and pain were still there,” said Lewandowski, “I knew I needed to change something, especially after our first child was born. The PTSD and varying pharmaceuticals to treat it were stealing my soul. Stress was intolerable, life wasn’t worth living, I was fighting for my life, I wanted to die, and taking the pills the doctors gave me didn’t stop that feeling, they made it worse.”
Lewandowski was transferred to Ft. Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma where he was an instructor on base as he awaited medical retirement processing. He had began weaning himself off of the opioids and began researching all natural options to treat his PTSD, including meditation, change in diet, and even medical marijuana. They took to the internet, library and friends, fellow veterans and asked about potential treatments for veterans with PTSD, anything, including cannabis. The overwhelming positive feedback from other veterans, the scientific research that supports its effectiveness and the desperation from the opioid withdrawal led Kris to grow his own medical marijuana. Just enough to make his own personal medicine, six plants. It was the first time he had ever tried cultivating his own medicine.
“I was desperate. I knew I was going to lose my wife, my kids, my marriage, and I truly believed I was going to lose my life. I still believe it. If I don’t have my medicine, I will endure the levels of PTSD and pain I have before. I can’t go back there,”
“It’s the only effective medicine I have ever had for my combat injury pain and the haunting PTSD. I just don’t understand how veterans who serve this country, could be denied access to a plant if it helps them.”
A PTSD flair up, no medicine, weaning from opioids and a postpartum Whitney had the couple in heated arguments that led to a domestic disturbance call in June of 2014. Police found the six plants and the pursuit of injustice began against Kris and his family. Whitney was told if she didn’t cooperate and agree with statements that Kris was assaulting her with a kitchen knife (he was making a sandwich when the argument broke out) that she would be charged with cultivation and they would lose custody of their two young boys, Levi and Jaxon. DHS would take the boys and she and Kris would go to jail, or she could say what they told her to.
“Kris has never harmed me, never hurt me, but I didn’t have a choice,” said Whitney, “We absolutely had a screaming match that night. We definitely had an argument and our marriage was in trouble, he was struggling with his PTSD and didn’t have anything that could make it better. I was enduring hormones from having the baby, and certainly emotional, but what the police say happened, never happened. They would have taken my kids if I didn’t agree to what they said.”
Initial legal counsel for Lewandowski arranged for a plea deal, not knowing that it would greatly impede he and his family’s health and education benefits among others, Kris agreed, becoming a felon rather than a veteran. He quickly regretted his decision.
“It is absolute insanity – this situation. Putting a three tour combat Marine veteran who served his country faithfully, in jail for using a medicine, the only medicine that was effective in treating his severe PTSD. This shows the deep and disturbing problems our country faces, ” said Matthew J. Pappas, a California-based attorney who is assisting Lewandowski along with his Oklahoma attorney, Tom Hurley and Florida-based attorney, Michael Minardi.
With new counsel, clearer understanding of the repercussions for the plea and a patriot’s belief in justice, he respectfully stood before Judge Tayloe and prosecutor Jordan Cabelka, and asked to reverse his plea in the crowded courtroom.
Kris won that battle on October 19, with the Judge allowing a plea reversal. So, for the moment, he is a veteran and not a felon. But the state took it personally and added the assault with a deadly weapons charge and a firearms charge thrown in because he had an heirloom, replica firearm in the house at the time of the disturbance. The state gave Lewandowski three options or trial. Two included jail time, the other had no jail but wouldn’t allow for him to consume his medicine, even in a legal state.
Kristoffer John Lewandowski is going to trial on May 30, 2017 in Lawton, Oklahoma at the Comanche County Courtroom. “If the state doesn’t do what is right, it is up to the citizens of Oklahoma. It must be the action of the people and the process of the jury trial to bring justice to this travesty and fully acquit Marine veteran, Kris Lewandowski,” said attorney Michael Minardi, “This case highlights the need for better laws and leadership. Jails are meant for rapists, murderers, child molesters, not Marine veterans trying to treat their medical condition with an all natural, non lethal plant that works for them.”
It is clear with this case, and many others, that our system is broken and broken heroes are regarded no higher than vicious predators, once in the broken system, regardless of charge. “Something must change, we hope and pray the change begins in Oklahoma on May 30, 2017 with Kris’s trial,” said Lewandowski’s wife, Whitney, “it’s all we can do to not hold each other and the children and just cry until that day. We are scared to death we will lose him, over a plant. This is America, he fought to defend and protect it and us, and they are going to send my husband to jail for a plant.”
Not if the good people of Oklahoma have something to say about it. “Not Guilty.”
The people of this country overwhelmingly support the medical use of marijuana 4 its citizens. This War on Drugs and War on the people must come to an end. Our veterans who fight for our rights in this country should not be persecuted or prosecuted for using a plant to treat the disease or injury that is caused by their service to this country. Cannabis should be an option for all veterans as a first line of treatment not a last or forbidden resort.