SALEM — A well-known Wiccan priest who also works as a psychic in Salem was sentenced to two years in jail Tuesday after pleading guilty to heroin distribution.
Richard Watson, 51, of 100 Bridge St., was shaking as he stood to hear a Salem Superior Court clerk read his sentence: 21/2 years in jail, two of which he must serve, with the balance suspended for three years, during which he will be on supervised probation.
The sentence was the result of a plea agreement reached between his lawyer and prosecutor Christina Ronan, and was imposed by Judge David Lowy.
Watson had originally been charged with trafficking in heroin, but the charge was reduced to possession of heroin with intent to distribute as a result of the plea agreement.
"He's sorry for what he's done and takes responsibility for his actions," said his attorney, Janis Stanziani.
Watson and a second man, Javier Pena-Abreu, were arrested last August following an investigation into suspected drug activity at Watson's apartment, Ronan told the judge. Salem police detectives had obtained a search warrant, and on the afternoon of Aug. 7, went in to conduct a search after seeing Pena-Abreu pull up to the house.
Inside, Watson and Pena-Abreu were sitting at a kitchen table with what turned out to be 10 grams of heroin in front of them.
The search of Watson's apartment would ultimately turn up 40 grams (nearly an ounce and a half) of the drug, Ronan said.
Heroin and similar-acting drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl, have been responsible for numerous overdoses and deaths during the past several years, as the region has been hit by an epidemic of opiate addiction.
Police also found indications that the drugs were being distributed, including packaging materials, cash and cell phones.
Watson told police he had agreed to let Pena-Abreu, 22, of Dorchester, use his apartment as a spot for customers to pick up drugs and leave cash; Pena-Abreu would return several times a week to deliver more heroin and pick up the money.
At his initial arraignment last year, Pena-Abreu's lawyer claimed his client was only visiting Watson for a Tarot card reading. But in February, Pena-Abreu pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in jail on the Salem case and similar pending charges in Lynn, according to court records.
In addition to working as a psychic in Salem, Watson was a leading member and minister of Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, a Wiccan congregation in Salem. After learning of his drug arrest last summer, the high priestess of that organization, Lori Bruno, publicly stripped him of his role in the group.
Stanziani, who submitted a folder of letters from friends of Watson to the judge, referred to Watson several times during Tuesday's hearing as a minister and described his work with various groups and people in the community. She urged Lowy to waive some of the fines and fees Watson must pay while on probation.
The judge suggested the issue be addressed when Watson is released.
A half-dozen family members and friends of Watson were in court for Tuesday's hearing.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.