Originally created 04/21/00

Area man pleads down charge



The Augusta quadriplegic facing a possible fourth marijuana conviction -- and a long prison sentence -- pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense Thursday.

The reduced charge for Lewis Edward Covar Jr., 51, came out of a plea negotiation in which he was sentenced to one year of probation.

In addition, Augusta Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet rescinded his February order to send Mr. Covar to prison for seven years.

Judge Overstreet initially had placed Mr. Covar on probation in March 1999 for his third marijuana conviction. But the judge warned Mr. Covar that he had to change his ways and not involve other people in his habit. In February, the judge revoked the probation after Mr. Covar was arrested again for possessing marijuana.

Mr. Covar, who has been paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a July 4, 1967, diving accident, insists he smokes marijuana only because it eases painful muscle spasms. The marijuana, he contends, did not adversely affect his consciousness like the physician-prescribed medications.

But local narcotics agents contended that Mr. Covar was not only using but also selling marijuana. Armed with a search warrant and guns, they searched Mr. Covar's home Jan. 25 and found 36 grams of marijuana.

Judge Overstreet revoked Mr. Covar's probation for the Jan. 25 arrest and ordered him to serve the remaining time in prison.

Mr. Covar was indicted on the new charge -- a felony that could have meant 10 years in prison without parole because of his previous convictions -- and the district attorney filed a forfeiture action on Mr. Covar's home, which is owned by his 76-year-old father, Lewis E. Covar Sr.

Mr. Covar's father, who is his primary care-giver, and prosecutors worked out a settlement in the civil action. The elder Mr. Covar agreed his son would limit visitors and have nothing to do with any illegal drug.

On Thursday, defense attorney Hugh Hadden said prosecutors agreed to the plea negotiation that freed Mr. Covar.

Because his health had deteriorated while in custody, Mr. Covar was transferred to an Augusta hospital after his release, Mr. Hadden said.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.