Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler said he thought he was in the middle of a "bad made-for-TV movie" when he heard about Wednesday morning's theft.
Suspects broke into a storage area in a Shady Lane Drive complex used by the Huron County Sheriff's Office and stole more than 100 pounds of marijuana. A jury found Toledo defendant John E. Nunley Jr., 35, guilty Wednesday night of possessing the same marijuana, which totaled 160 pounds during a Sept. 20 traffic stop.
Nunley, his defense attorney James VanDeilen, Leffler, a jury, Huron County Common Pleas Court staff and four deputies were present when the jurors viewed the evidence before attorneys presented their opening statements Tuesday.
Leffler said he, VanDeilen and Judge Jim Conway decided to have the jurors come to the barn to see the crates, packaging and marijuana at the barn instead of in the courtroom, citing medical and "hazard" concerns because the drugs were beginning to mold.
The burglary was reported at 7 a.m. Wednesday about 12 hours before Nunley was convicted.
"There are reasons to be suspicious," Leffler said, pointing out that evidence bags and the packaging for the marijuana related to the Nunley case also were stolen. "It's a heckuva circumstance.
"For all I know, Nunley could have chatted with the other guys," the prosecutor said, referring to Nunley's suspected accomplices. "I'm sure the deputies are working all those angles.
"There was a container with a lot (of marijuana) missing," Leffler said, estimating the street value at between $100,000 and $120,000.
Testimony in the Nunley trial revealed he drove a black pickup truck with four insulated crates of the marijuana from R & L Transfer with his co-defendants following him in another truck Sept. 20. Authorities, after following them from R & L, arrested the three men on U.S. 250 north of Milan.
Leffler called Nunley, Marcos M. Jaso, 35, and Carlos Torres Jr., 30, "a desperate gang" in light of the circumstances.
Just after the barn burglary was reported, Major Greg Englund said deputies, the Ohio Bureau of Investigation and Identification (BCI&I) and Leffler's office were "in the early stages of the investigation."
Leffler's investigator, Bob McDowell, was on the scene with his trained police dog Theo for about 1 1/2 hours as of about 7:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Theo tracked the individuals a "short distance from the barn," said McDowell, estimating it was 50 to 75 yards. He said the dog lost the scent, so investigators believe the suspects left in a vehicle.
"We believe they were in the high school parking lot area," McDowell said, before they went to the barn. "We think there was more than one vehicle involved at this time."
The storage complex is in a parking lot between Norwalk High School and the sheriff's office.
Leffler said he is sure BCI&I agents already have processed the crime scene, but referred further questions to Sheriff Richard Sutherland. The sheriff didn't return multiple requests for interviews Wednesday and this morning.
"I know he's very concerned. He called me last night," Leffler said.
Since the theft and burglary, deputies have moved the remaining marijuana to the evidence room in the sheriff's office.