DOBSON — The stories and appeals for justice made by ten break-in victims who spoke during a Superior Court sentencing hearing on Friday shared many similarities.
Their homes had not just been broken into, but ransacked.
They had lost possessions that they couldn’t afford to replace and some that were irreplaceable.
But more than that was stolen.
“Security,” Cheryl Whitaker, one of the victims, told the judge. “Every piece of mind you have at home — gone.”
The victims are tied together because their property was among that recovered during the execution of a search warrant at 225 Pegram Drive, Elkin, connecting four residents of the home with a string of break-ins reported in the surrounding areas.
The Elkin Police Department announced the subsequent arrests of those residents, Letonya Ann Sidden, 40, Guillermo Rodriguez, 48, Ashley Nicole Speer, 21, and Christopher Blaine Settle, 24, in March.
In September, Sidden was convicted on 18 associated felony violations and ordered to serve three to 6.6 years in prison followed by four consecutive sentences of 11 to 23 months suspended pending the successful completion of 36 months of supervised probation.
Settle’s case was disposed Friday.
He pleaded guilty to 15 counts of felony possession of stolen goods, possession of burglary tools, two counts each of breaking and/or entering and larceny after breaking and/or entering, and four counts of misdemeanor possession of stolen goods and or property.
He also pleaded guilty to one additional count each of breaking and entering and larceny after breaking and/or entering, which were unrelated to the property recovered at the Pegram Street residence.
Cracking the case
Assistant District Attorney Mike Beal shared the state’s summary of the evidence with the court.
One of the victims, Gretta Lytton, had called the police after finding her home had been broken into on Feb. 29.
“The house had been completely trashed,” Beal said, explaining that items as disparate as video game consoles, hair curlers, soap, frozen meat, and a pair of pink bedazzled baby shoes, had been stolen.
A neighbor had witnessed Sidden and Settle leaving the house that morning and identified the vehicle.
Later on that day, an Elkin police officer stopped that vehicle, which was driven by Speer.
Settle was a passenger.
Items stolen from Lytton’s home, as well as hammers and a pry bar, were discovered in the vehicle.
The search warrant for the home at 225 Pegram Street was obtained in early March.
“Officers made entry,” Beal said. “They located what they could only call a treasure trove.”
The small home, which consisted of a hallway and two bedrooms, was “crammed to the rafters with stolen property and merchandise.”
Detectives began the painstaking process of connecting the items with reports of stolen property and break-ins.
Sidden’s court file indicated 19 separate victims.
“Because of good police and detective work,” some items were reunited with their rightful owners, Beal said. “Not all.”
Defense Attorney Allison Vaughn spoke on behalf of her client.
“This has been a difficult case,” she stated.
Though Settle admitted responsibility for the break-ins alleged by the state, “I believe Ms. Sidden was the main culprit,” she said. “He (Settle) was in prison while a lot of the break-ins occurred.”
Vaughn asked Presiding Judge A. Moses Massey to consider allowing Settle to enter a two-year intensive substance abuse program in Durham.
“If he does not complete the program, he’s going to prison for a long time,” she said. “He’s very well aware of that.”
How it feels
After Beal told the court the factual basis for two charges unrelated to the bulk of the offenses, the victims had their turn.
Lytton started things off.
A mother and grandmother who heads to work every day to provide for her family, she spoke of how her 14-year-old son came home from school to see his mother outside their home with the police, his home torn apart.
“I had to move,” she said.
Whitaker talked about how she and her husband are putting their daughter through college.
“We struggle every month to make ends meet,” she said. “I slept on the couches of friends and family for months. I still have days when I pull up and can’t go inside. What I’m here today is to ask you to please give the maximum sentence.”
Sharon and Blake Mitchell spoke on behalf of Sharon Mitchell’s mother, an 87-year-old woman suffering from dementia who had been befriended by Sidden.
Her prized possession, her mother’s ring, had been stolen.
“I buried her in January. I had left no jewelry at all to put on her,” Mitchell said.
Delphine Van Eaton described how she had been at the hospital with her sister, “not knowing if she was going to make it through surgery,” and came home to see her apartment, “like a tornado had ripped through it.”
Ricky Lyons said he works third shift in Yadkinville and lives a mile away from his nearest neighbor.
“Nobody’s ever bothered anything,” he said. “Nobody ever took my secure place away from me. They went through everything, clean clothes, dirty clothes, ransacked. I didn’t have the money to put everything back,” he said. “Some of my personal property that was my mom and dads I’ll never see again.”
Barbara and Brad Freeman talked about how they came home from church on Valentine’s Day to find their home torn apart.
“It’s just things and we can replace it,” Barbara Freeman said. “My little girl being terrified, I can’t ever fix that.”
Freeman said her daughter, who was 8 years old when the break in occurred, told her parents “all you can do is pray for them.”
“I do pray for them every day,” she said. “I can’t ever fix that fear for my little girl, ever.”
Brad Freeman spoke of his wife’s own persistent fear.
“I had to go to work every day and leave her at home terrified,” he said. “It’s been really hard to try to go on with your life and be normal.”
Vaughn reminded the court that her client had been in custody when the incidents involving some of victims present in the courtroom occurred.
Judge Massey listed off a string of Settle’s prior convictions over the past several years, many of which were for felony or misdemeanor larceny, before denying the defendant’s request to immediately enter the substance abuse facility.
“I don’t say this to belittle you,” Massey said, “It’s just a fact. You are a thief….You just keep stealing. You don’t learn….Based on the evidence before the court, I think justice requires the defendant to serve a considerable amount of time.”
He sentenced Settle to four consecutive 11- to 23- month periods of incarceration, a total of about 3.6 to 7.6 years, followed by four consecutive suspended sentences of the same length.
Upon his release from prison he is to be placed on supervised probation for 48 months, a judgment which may be satisfied by completing the Durham substance abuse program.
Settle was also ordered to be placed on electronic monitoring for 180 days during the first probation period.
“I wish that every person in the United States of America, but particularly in North Carolina, could hear from these victims,” Massey said.
“There would be some that would think twice.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.