2012-02-02 / Local & State

Local Man Not Guilty In Gift Certificate Case

Judge hands down decision following bench trial
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz
STAFF WRITER

In spite of a motion by the defense midway through Friday’s bench trial to dismiss charges, Fulton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Angela R. Krom opted to hear the case in its entirety before rendering a decision in the matter involving Harrisonville resident Thomas King.

Charged with one count each of theft and receiving stolen property, King, 47, was arrested last summer in connection with a $20 gift certificate that went missing from the ag shop at Mc- Connellsburg High School.

“This particular case is not an easy one for the court to decide,” said the judge. Krom noted she believed the testimony of the commonwealth’s witnesses and that there was not an “axe to grind.” In addition, the possession of stolen goods can be evidence that the person in question stole that particular item, she said.

However, in announcing a not-guilty verdict on both misdemeanor counts, Krom said there was a “piece of the puzzle missing,” and therefore she was unable to find King guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Testimony given on behalf of the prosecution during the case included that of a 17-year-old male, currently a junior at Mc- Connellsburg High School. The juvenile stated he volunteered to gather donations to be used at a FFA banquet. He said he picked up two $20 gift certificates from The Lodge restaurant in McConnellsburg as well as a certificate from Fletcher’s

Dry Cleaning.

He took the trio of certificates to school during the morning of April 5, 2011, and placed them inside a desk drawer in the ag shop overseen by FFA advisor and teacher Ann Meyer. In Meyer’s absence that day, her schedule was overseen by King, a substitute with emergency certification through Tuscarora Intermediate Unit #11.

The following day one of The Lodge gift certificates was missing from the drawer. A search of the floor and interior of the desk produced negative results. A replacement gift certificate was obtained, although both Meyer and state police Trooper Bradley Poole maintained there was only one original certificate from The Lodge and not two.

The student told the court “every once in a while” items would be taken from the shop or turn up missing. He said he was “actually” surprised it was missing because he didn’t think anyone would touch it.

The incident was never reported to the state police until mid-June 2011 when the certificate was used at The Lodge by King, who paid for lunch for two and a tip. Lodge employees Cortnee Fix and Nichole Coons both added testimony about the matter, with Coons saying the defendant appeared to be in a hurry and stood as if he had one foot out the door.

Taking the stand in his own defense, King said he came to have the certificate in his possession on May 27, which was the last day he substituted for the district. King maintained he purchased the certificate from an unknown student in a restroom adjacent to the cafeteria. King said the boy was selling the certificate for a FFA fundraiser.

He went on to describe the teen as being in 10th or 11th grade, with a stocky build, brownish hair and no glasses. Presented with a copy of the Spartan 2010-11 yearbook, King stated a few students were “standouts,” but there wasn’t anyone he would put a finger to and put in the same position he was currently in.

He admitted to having occasions alone in the ag shop but pointed out other items had gone missing that day such as roller balls from inside computer mice as well as a DVD. Meyer countered there were not any DVDs missing from her collection nor was there a FFA student meeting held at the conclusion of the day as was maintained by King.

King also went into detail regarding the cancellations of several scheduled interviews with Trooper Poole. He did not have access to a vehicle on one occasion due to a scheduled tuneup, but said he invited the trooper to come to his mortgage office in McConnellsburg to talk. The follow-up interview was cancelled after the trooper was observed by King travelling with lights and sirens to an emergency call. The trooper maintained he did not have any emergency calls on that day in question, and it’s a rarity that lights and sirens are ever used.

In his closing statements defense attorney Jim Stein pointed out King was not only a “credible and honest” person but was also transparent throughout the process.

“ He’s an upstanding businessman ... who has a lot to lose by doing something so stupid,” he concluded.

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