KEYSER - Attorneys for business owners John and Tonya Cozatt have requested the right to hire an independent testing facility to conduct their own analysis of the products once sold at their two businesses which investigators say contained illegal substances.


By Liz Beavers
lbeavers@newstribune.info
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Attorneys for business owners John and Tonya Cozatt have requested the right to hire an independent testing facility to conduct their own analysis of the products once sold at their two businesses which investigators say contained illegal substances.
The Cozatts, of Ridgeley, who own and operate The Earth Zone in Keyser and Short Gap, were indicted in January on felony charges of selling synthetic marijuana in their stores.
The product in question was contained in small packets labeled as incense. Law enforcement officers say, however, the product was being ingested for the purpose of obtaining a high, and that some of the components making up the subtsances are illegal under West Virginia State Law.
Monday, Trooper Z.J. Paterline of the West Virginia State Police testified in a preliminary hearing before Circuit Court Judge Phil Jordan that area law enforcement officers had been told by a number of individuals that the Earth Zone was selling synthetic marijuana.
Paterline said he had gone to both the Keyser and Short Gap stores on separate dates in late 2011 and purchased the substances in question. He was out of uniform at the time and said there appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary with the transactions.
The substances were sent to the West Virginia State Police lab to be tested, however, and were determined to contain illegal compounds.
Sgt. John Droppleman of the West Virginia State Police described the material as "herbs with chemicals on them."
It is the makeup of the chemicals which came into question as to its legality under West Virginia State Law.
Search warrants were obtained for both stores, and officers seized computers, computer towers, and some paperwork which Paterline said pertained to the case.
Attorney John H. Bryan, representing the Cozatts, questioned Paterline about the packaging of the substance, noting that none of the packages said it was synthetic marijuana or meant to be smoked.
Bryan also asked Paterline if he could tell when he purchased the substances if they were illegal or not, and he said he could not.
During his testimony, Droppleman told the court that he had visited Cozatt at his Keyser store after making a traffic stop during which some of the substance was found on a young woman.
"He allowed me to view some video that showed the young lady, who was 18, had made the purchase," he said.
Droppleman said he asked Cozatt why he was selling the substance in his stores.
"I asked him, 'why don't you take this stuff off your shelves?/" he said. "He said he had some test results that showed what he was selling was legal ... and it was a good draw," Droppleman said.
Judge Jordan granted Bryan's motion to have the substance retested by an independent firm, and another preliminary hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, May 22, at 11 a.m.