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Officer’s testimony softens a sentence
The man who arrested the drug dealer, 26, pleaded for probation. The judge added restrictions and a warning.
By Kathleen Brady Shea INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
A 26-year-old drug dealer found an astonishing ally at his sentencing yesterday: his arresting officer.
Ryan Collins, a West Chester detective who specializes in narcotics, made an impassioned plea for probation for Stephen Chytla, a defendant who originally faced a 13-year jail term.
The prosecutor took a different tack. Chytla got a huge break, said Assistant District Attorney Mark J. Conte, when the commonwealth waived several mandatory-minimum sentences. And no matter how many violent drug dealers Chytla helped bring down, Conte argued, he still deserved some jail time.
In the end, though, after hearing testimony about how a teenage Chytla was introduced to pot by his mother and how he ended up selling cocaine to support his own habit, Chester County Court Judge Paula Francisco Ott opted for probation.
She sentenced Chytla to five to 10 years of supervision with a host of restrictions, including a year of electronic home-monitoring and drug and alcohol counseling.
“I was impressed with the detective and what he says Mr. Chytla has done,” said Ott. “I believe you have earned your right to stay in the community.”
Defense attorney Thomas B. Bellwoar said it was a credit to Chytla that a “hard-nosed detective assigned exclusively to drug investigations” would come in, look the judge in the eye, and say, “Keep this guy out of jail.”
Chytla also addressed the court, describing a painful history of addiction and eventual self-discovery. Though raised by his grandparents, he said, he increased his time with his mother at the age of 14, when he saw as “cool” her willingness to share pot with him. Before he knew it, her fiance gave him $1,000 and set him up as a dealer, a trade that escalated to match his cocaine habit.
Chytla, who now runs his own landscaping business, was arrested on Oct. 16, 2001, for selling Ecstasy to an undercover officer. He entered Drug Court, a program of treatment and supervision for nonviolent offenders.
But his drug activity did not stop. He made two cocaine sales in April to an undercover officer and ended up in jail in May 2002.
“It saved my life,” he said of his incarceration. “I was using and couldn’t figure out a way to stop.”
In addition to becoming drug-free for the first time in years, Chytla said, he surveyed the prison with disdain.
“Looking at the other men, I realized I was just one of them.” And then he decided to cooperate. “After my first bust,” he said, “I felt good to be on the right side.”
Defense attorney Christian Hoey represented a drug defendant whose case turned on Chytla’s cooperation with police.
“The quality of his testimony,” said Hoey, “was unimpeachable.” Chytla said he overcame his fear of working as a confidential informant by focusing on the control he regained over his life, which now includes a 1-year-old daughter.
Additional motivation came from alienating his former associates, he said. His reputation as a snitch ensured that he will “never be able to get drugs in West Chester.”
Agreeing that Chytla had changed his life, the judge said she wanted to share the optimism of his myriad supporters that his reform would continue.
But Ott left Chytla with a warning. “I just caution you: Addiction is hereditary,” she said. Please do not get overconfident.”
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