BANGOR, Maine — A Penobscot County jury on Thursday found two women not guilty of having a Bangor man steal more than $14,000 worth of appliances, lawn care equipment and flat-screen televisions from area retailers for them from a shopping list.
The items on the list that Evelyn Dempsey, 60, of Hampden and Judy Gariepy, 61, formerly of Hampden allegedly paid Michael Hughes, 38, to steal in fall 2006 included an oven, dishwasher, clothes dryer, televisions, snowblowers, lawn mowers, sewing machines, mixers and sheet sets.
The jury deliberated for 2½ hours before announcing its verdict about 6 p.m.
The women, who are physician assistants, were indicted in July 2007 for receiving stolen property from Hughes the previous year when Gariepy was living with Dempsey in Hampden. Gariepy now lives in Phoenix, Ariz.
“For Ms. Dempsey and Ms. Gariepy, this has been a long, heartbreaking ordeal,” defense attorneys David Bate and Richard Hartley, both of Bangor, said in a joint statement on behalf of their clients after the verdict. “They are very, very pleased to have their innocence confirmed, and they’re looking forward to resuming their normal lives. They are especially thankful of support they had at work and in the community. People have stood behind them.”
If convicted, Dempsey faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000 because she was accused of receiving stolen property worth more than $10,000. Gariepy faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 because she was accused of receiving stolen property worth more than $1,000 and less than $10,000.
Hughes has a long criminal history that includes convictions for theft. He testified Monday, the first day of the trial, that Dempsey gave him a list of things she and Gariepy wanted.
He would steal them and then sell them to the women, often for much less than their retail value, Greg Campbell, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County, told the jury Thursday during his closing argument. To find the women guilty, the prosecutor said, the jury had to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the women knew or believed the items were stolen
“This is not an ideal case,” Campbell told the jury. “If it were ideal, Michael Hughes would be sitting at that [defense] table. Michael Hughes would be the star of the show, but sometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief.”
Hughes, who was arrested in October 2006 when he was caught shoplifting from Kohl’s in Bangor, has pleaded guilty to theft. In a plea agreement with the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office, he is expected to be sentenced Monday to no more than 2½ years in prison. If the judge were to impose a longer sentence, he would be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to trial.
Gariepy and Dempsey, who lived together at Dempsey’s Hampden home, said that they bought the items from Hughes, but believed they were purchasing damaged or discounted merchandise, their defense attorneys told the jury in their closing arguments.
Dempsey took Hughes in when he was a troubled teen about 20 years ago, Bate, her defense attorney, told the jury. She knew he had spent time in prison and had substance abuse problems, the attorney said, but when they reconnected about 2½ years ago, she thought he had turned his life around.
Hughes told her in 2006 that he was working at the “Home Depot Warehouse,” Bate said. The company does not have a warehouse, but the women believed him because he sometimes wore an orange apron with the store’s name on it. Hughes told the women that he used either his employee discount or bought slightly damaged items at a deep discount for them, Bate told the jury.
Gariepy’s attorney, Hartley, criticized the investigation by Bangor police because they did not search Hughes’ residence and did not record interviews with the defendants. The defense attorney also said the prosecution’s star witness was not a credible witness.
“We know he’s a career criminal,” Hartley said. “He’s not just a thief — he’s a brazen thief. He would walk into a store and walk out with property [without paying for it]. It also was common for him to get store employees to help him get items out of the stores.”
One loss prevention manager testified that if he hadn’t been given a description of Hughes from other stores in the Bangor Mall area, Hartley told the jury, he wouldn’t have been suspicious of him.
“He looked like just another shopper,” the defense attorney told the jury.