Director invites thieves to museum

PARKERSBURG – A sign outside the Veterans Museum of the Mid-Ohio Valley on Friday invited the public to steal from the museum without threat of jail time.

Gary Farris, director and supervisor of the Veterans Museum of the Mid-Ohio Valley at 1829 Seventh St., told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Friday that someone arrested and charged with stealing from the museum was placed on probation instead of receiving jail time for the theft.

Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton reviewed the case file on Friday evening when informed of the concerns Farris was expressing. The case was handled in the normal manner and several factors were taken into account before the plea agreement was accepted, Wharton said.

Farris declined to mention the suspect in the case by name, but alleged that the suspect stole a World War I-era bayonet, a World War II-era chaplain’s cap and a World War II-era airborne military patch from the museum in early January.

According to Wood County Magistrate Court records, the person accused of this crime was Robert Lawrence Burdette, 61, of Belleville.

Burdette pleaded guilty on Aug. 18 in Wood County Magistrate Court to petit larceny for stealing the bayonet, cap and patch from the Veterans Museum on Jan. 4, 2014.

The case was handled by Magistrate Robin Waters, Wharton said.

Burdette was sentenced to 10 days in jail, which was suspended in place of six months of unsupervised probation, and assessed $160.25 in court costs.

The value of the items stolen during the Jan. 4 incident was less than $1,000, said Wharton. This makes the matter a misdemeanor, he said.

Burdette entered a plea agreement in the case, pleading guilty rather than pressing for the case to go to circuit court, Wharton said.

Farris expressed his displeasure over the outcome of the case to The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on Friday.

“Probation is not a punishment,” Farris said. “He plead guilty, and they let him go with nothing,” Farris said.

If the case had been pursued to Circuit Court, the outcome probably would have been similar, Wharton said. The length of the suspended jail term or of probation may have been longer, though, Wharton said. However, all probation at magistrate court level is unsupervised in Wood County, as is most probation at circuit court levels, he said.

Farris was upset because he was not called in to testify in the case due to the guilty plea being entered. On Jan. 4, Burdette allegedly signed the sign-in book at the museum with a false name and address, Farris said.

Before a plea agreement can be entered, officials look at several factors, including the nature of the offense, the aggravating factors, and the mitigating factors of the case, Wharton said.

The aggravating factor was that items of historical significance were stolen from a museum, and, if lost, these are items which are not easily replaced, Wharton said.

However, the mitigating factors were that Burdette was 61 years old at the time of the crime, and this was his first criminal charge in Wood County, Wharton said. Burdette returned the items to the police, rather than forcing officers to search for them, Wharton said. Burdette also showed a willingness to accept responsibility for his actions, Wharton said.

Farris said on Friday that he feels anyone who steals from the Veterans Museum of the Mid-Ohio Valley will not be punished for the crime. The museum put out a sign advertising this fact, which was still outside the business on Friday.

“Anyone who wants to come over and steal from us, just come on over,” Farris said on Friday. “You won’t go to jail for it,” he said.

Wharton said that because the items were returned willingly, the sentence was not as harsh as it could have been otherwise.

“There was no economic loss to the victim in this case because the items were returned,” Wharton said.