One of the stars of the reality television series “Moonshiners” was sentenced Thursday in Pittsylvania County Circuit Court to a three year suspended penitentiary sentence for possession of a sawed off shotgun.
Steven Ray Tickle, 38, of U.S. Highway 29 in Blairs was convicted in January of the felony charge following a July 12, 2015, traffic stop for a bad headlight on his vehicle.
On Thursday, Attorney Joe Garrett of Danville asked the court for a suspended sentence, so his client could continue working as a promotor for a legal distillery, which sells alcohol in 19 states.
According to the lawyer, Tickle is the sole custodian of a 15-year-old daughter.
He also said Tickle has "given up drinking," but has to "occasionally taste alcohol as part of his role on 'Moonshiners'."
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Aubrey Gordon called Tickle's criminal record "not super terrible," saying most of the offenses were driving related.
However, Gordon pointed out that the defendant had been convicted of a felony firearm violation with a dangerous gun and asked the court to send a message that "that's not the type of beheavior we condone in this area."
Tickle spoke to the court prior to his sentencing, saying, "I am a law-abiding citizen. That gun is something that a buddy of mine gave me many years ago."
He said he had been keeping the weapon in a shoebox in his closet until recently when his friend died. Tickle said he had taken the gun out, so he could give it to his friend's grandson.
He told the court he had quit drinking after his daughter begged him to, but added, "Every once in a while I take a taste to make sure the quality is right."
"My daughter wants to stay with me, but if I'm in jail, I can't provide for her," he said.
Judge Stacey W. Moreau said, "A sawed off shot gun is extremely dangerous. You did have it out in the open in the cab of your truck; however, you have no criminal history to amount to anything."
The judge suspended the three year sentence on the condition that Tickle successfully complete 18 months probation, pay court costs, and be on good behavior for five years.
"You are allowed to leave the Commonwealth if it relates to work or with personal permission from your probation officer," she said. "But as a convicted felon, you cannot possess any firearm, ammunition, or explosives."
At Tickle's trial in January, Cpl. T.W. Eanes of the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office testified that he stopped a black Dodge truck for having a headlight out, and after checking with DMV discovered Tickle's license was suspended.
The officer said he also saw a model homemade moonshine still made from a plastic bottle in the seat of Tickle's truck.
Deputy Justin Turner of the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Department, who also responded to the scene, said he noticed the sawed off shotgun as well.
"Mr. Tickle had a sawed off 12 gauge shotgun in the front seat of the truck," said Eanes. "The barrel length was approximately 14 inches long. The shotgun was in plain view."
Eanes told the court that Tickle was cooperative and told him that the gun was a prop gun given to him by the Moonshiner's show.
However, when he was being booked, Tickle started joking around, the officer said.
"He (Tickle) said the gun was a good snake gun, and he said his mother made him a pouch to carry it in," said Eanes. "No one asked him any questions. He just opened up."
Pittsylvania County Commonwealth's Attorney Bryan Haskins attempted to introduce a clip from Moonshiners as evidence of Tickle's admission of guilt; however, the judge granted a defense objection to the videotape.
His defense attorney also argued that the seizure of the weapon from his client's vehicle was unconstitutional. He said officers didn't have a warrant and were on posted private property.
Eanes testified that when he hit his lights for Tickle to pull over, it took several minutes before Tickle pulled into his own driveway off of U.S. Highway 29 and stopped.
Haskins pointed out that it was not a game of tag where someone was safe once they reached base.
Investigator Shannon Edwards of the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office testified that he took the weapon to the firing range to test if it could be fired.
"It had a tremendous recoil," he said.
Edwards said he bruised his hand, because there wasn't enough room for his hand between the breakdown pin and the trigger.
The officer used #8 load dove shot.
He also said the barrel and stock of the gun were held together by some sort of black duct tape.
In her ruling, Moreau said the evidence showed that the gun was usable and could be fired and that the defense had produced no evidence that the gun was a prop from the show.
The Discovery Channel show is in its sixth season.
Partly filmed in Pittsylvania County, "Moonshiners" features a number of local characters, including Tickle and Tim Smith of Climax.
Smith, who is chief of Climax Volunteer Fire Department, attended Tickle's trial in January, but wasn't present at Thursday's sentencing.