Two plead guilty in copper theft case

BUCKHANNON – Two of the three men accused of stealing copper wire from Frontier Communications in Upshur County entered guilty pleas in Upshur County Circuit Court Tuesday.

Michael Wayne Johnson appeared with his attorney, Christina Flanigan, and entered a plea agreement. Johnson, who is currently serving 10 years in prison on a federal charge of manufacturing methamphetamine, pleaded guilty to one count of grand larceny and one count of conspiracy.

Johnson, along with Gene Patrick Herndon and Elieen D. Deshays, were indicted by an Upshur County grand jury in September for their roles in stealing the copper wire. All three were indicted on two felony counts of conspiracy, a felony count of grand larceny, a misdemeanor count of conspiracy and a misdemeanor count of petit larceny.

“We would like restitution to be included in the agreement,” Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger said. “They were caught in the act at Frontier Communications. We were able to measure the wire to get an exact cost. Restitution would be $2,224.”

Senior Status Judge John Henning accepted the plea agreement and Johnson waived his right to have a pre-sentence investigation conducted. Reger recommended that any sentence run concurrently with the federal prison term.

Henning sentenced Johnson to 1-10 years for grand larceny and 1-5 years for the conspiracy charge. Henning ordered that the sentences run concurrently with Johnson’s federal sentence.

Herndon appeared with his attorney, Frank Cornette, and pleaded guilty to grand larceny; his other charges were dismissed. At the beginning of the hearing, Henning said the court had received a psychological evaluation for Herndon.

“The overall impression is that Mr. Herndon is capable of standing trial,” Henning said.

Cornette did not object to the report and Henning entered a motion stating Herndon could stand trail. The attorney asked the court if the state could enter a factual basis for the plea agreement because Herndon has difficulty remembering things due to a traumatic brain injury he suffered.

“On June 27, Frontier had copper stolen,” Reger said. “Law enforcement set up and caught him with the others stealing the wire.”

Reger said that Herndon made statements at the scene to law enforcement admitting to stealing the copper.

Henning accepted the plea and Herndon waived his right to a pre-sentence investigation. Henning asked the attorneys for recommendations on sentencing.

“Mr. Herndon is the victim of a traumatic brain injury,” Cornett said. “He has trouble remembering things.”

Cornett asked the court to consider an alternative sentence, with his client paying the full restitution of $2,224. He said most of Herndon’s criminal history occurred before the injury, that he is already being monitored by Randolph County Drug Court for other charges and that his client is fully disabled.

Reger said he would stand silent in recommendations as long as the restitution is paid.

“The court is aware you have suffered a serious injury and it has affected you mentally,” Henning said to Herndon during sentencing. “The court has two psychological reports and the last found you competent. You don’t have to be real competent to know that you shouldn’t be stealing copper in the middle of the night.”

Henning sentenced Herndon to 1-10 years in a state penitentiary and ordered that full restitution be paid. The other counts of the indictment were dropped.

Cornette again asked the court to consider an alternative sentence, but Henning denied the request.

Reger told The Inter-Mountain that Deshays entered into a plea agreement on Dec. 5, 2013. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit grand larceny. She was sentenced to 1-5 years in prison. Reger said the sentence is running concurrent with a federal sentence she is currently serving.

Also in Upshur County Circuit Court Tuesday:

Shauna L. Winnings, of 180 Randolph St., Buckhannon, appeared with her attorney, Dan Orndorff, and asked for a continuance in her case.

Henning asked Winnings what she thought about continuing the case.

“I just want to get this over with,” she told the court after saying she was fine with the continuance. “I want to serve my time and get this all over with.”

Henning accepted the motion and slated the hearing for Nov. 6.

She was indicted in September 2013 on felony charges of conspiracy and operating or attempting to operate a clandestine drug laboratory.

Henning accepted a plea agreement for Paul Arron Bolton, of Route 3, Box 162B, Buckhannon.

Bolton appeared with Flanigan, and pleaded guilty to one count of possession of precursors used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

Henning asked Bolton what he did that made him guilty of the crime. Bolton said he was in possesion of several items used to make meth.

Bolton was indicted in September on eight felony counts of possession of precursors used in the manufacture of methamphetamine and single felony counts of operating or attempting to operate a clandestine drug laboratory and conspiracy. He remains free on bond.

“I traded it off for a half gram (of methamphetamine). I didn’t want to wait to cook it,” Bolton told the court. “I was in real bad shape at that time. I needed a fix and I needed it now.”

Henning accepted the plea and ordered a pre-sentence investigation. The other charges contained in the indictment were dismissed. Bolton will remain free on bond. Sentencing was slated for Nov. 6.