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Trial Starts for Florida Preacher Caught with Pot

VIERA, Fla. - Testimony gets under way Thursday in the trial of a Palm Bay, Fla., man who police said identified himself as a minister who used the more than 100 marijuana plants seized from his home last year as a religious sacrament.

Attorneys chose a jury panel and gave their opening statements Wednesday in the case of Steven Swallick.

Swallick, 53, was arrested in May 2008 in connection with what police called an "elaborate" grow-house operation that included special air-conditioning vents, lighting and an irrigation system at his Hulda Street home.

He is charged with one count each of possession and manufacturing of marijuana. Each charge is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

He also is charged with one misdemeanor count of larceny with relation to a utility fixture for allegedly tampering with electrical wiring in his home.

Swallick, who allegedly told police he is affiliated with the Hawaiian Cannabis Ministries, has been free pending trial on $8,000 bail since July 2008, according to electronic court records.

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