Friday, April 23, 2010

Licensed grower faces drug charges

By Gregory Smith
Journal Staff Writer\

PROVIDENCE — A man who is licensed by the state to grow and smoke
marijuana for his hypertension shot and killed a masked thief in his
apartment last week.

He was in District Court on Thursday — but not because of the fatal

The attorney general's office is prosecuting the man, Matthew A.
Salvato, 22, of 902 Chalkstone Ave., over the scale and legality of his
marijuana growing, not because of the shooting. The police are calling
the shooting an apparent case of self-defense and justifiable homicide.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office, Michael J. Healey,
said all aspects of the incident remain under investigation.

Salvato killed Alex Delasnueces, 26, also of Providence, in his
apartment when Salvato interrupted a break-in by the victim, according
to the police. Officers found marijuana plants in the house, as well as
Delasnueces, who had been shot through the heart.

The police apparently seized all the marijuana, and they charged Salvato
with the manufacture of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent
to deliver and two counts of having a firearm in the furtherance of drug
offenses. At his arraignment April 16, he was ordered held without bail.

J. Patrick O'Neill, Salvato's lawyer, asked Judge Elaine Bucci
at a bail hearing Thursday to release his client on bail with a
restriction such as home confinement. But Assistant Attorney General
Pamela E. Chin objected — Healey said Salvato is a danger to the
community — and Bucci ordered that Salvato continue to be held for

Both Salvato and his unnamed downstairs neighbor hold licenses under
Rhode Island's new medical-marijuana law and were cultivating crops,
according to O'Neill. Their crops were consolidated illegally, the
police allege, and the issue is how many plants and seedlings Salvato
had. The neighbor has not been charged.

"When you're talking about the medical-marijuana law, math is
very important," Healey said.

The neighbor is a state-licensed caregiver, according to O'Neill,
which allows him to grow marijuana and possess plants, seedlings and
loose marijuana for licensed patients. And one of his patients is
Salvato, the lawyer acknowledged.

Salvato himself is both a licensed caregiver and a licensed patient,
O'Neill said, apparently allowing him to have even more plants,
seedlings and loose marijuana than the neighbor. Annemarie Beardsworth,
a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Health, which oversees
the medical-marijuana program, said the law allows the double licensing.

Neither the police, nor the attorney general's office will say how
many plants, seedlings and loose marijuana were seized and for what
amounts Salvato is being held responsible. Healey said those aspects
remain under investigation.

O'Neill, however, said outside court that Salvato legally had 48
mature and immature plants plus a number of seedlings and denied that
his client was either illegally possesseing and distributing marijuana.

Bucci scheduled a follow-up hearing for Thursday to thrash out the
complexities of the medical-marijuana law and to reconsider bail.

As explained by Beardsworth, the law allows a caregiver to have an
unlimited number of patients, but to grow a maximum of 24 plants, to
grow "a reasonable amount of unusable marijuana, up to 12
seedlings," and to keep a maximum of 5 ounces of usable loose

A patient may have a maximum of 12 plants, a maximum 12 seedlings and a
maximum 2.5 ounces of usable loose marijuana.

The incident occurred, according to the police, on the morning of April
15, when Salvato, who lived alone in an apartment that took in the
second and third floors of the house, arrived home with his girlfriend.
They noticed that some items had been gathered together on the floor, as
if they were to be stolen by a thief, and Salvato got his semiautomatic

He went to the third floor, called out that he had a gun and, as he
related to the police, encountered Delasnueces, who wore a bandanna
across his face and also carried a handgun. Salvato fired once and
Delasnueces tumbled down the stairs and came to rest with his gun
beneath him, according to Detective Capt. James Desmarais.

Investigators said they recovered three handguns; it is unclear who owns
the third gun.

Healey said it is too early in the investigation to say whether Salvato
may face a more serious charge regarding the shooting. But he said the
vast majority of suspicious deaths are presented to a grand jury for
consideration of an indictment.

To the police, the incident is further evidence of a flawed
medical-marijuana law, which they say makes caregivers and patients
targets of crime and is overly secretive.

O'Neill said his client had a gun because he lives in a bad
neighborhood and because the neighbor had been the victim of a recent

"He wasn't protecting his, quote, unquote stash,"
O'Neill said.

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