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Both sides cite ‘the principle of the thing’ in jury trial over theft of pumpkins, cornstalks worth $26

Michael York | BDN
Michael York | BDN
Ronney Vick, accused of stealing six pumpkins and two cornstalks valued at $26 from a Kenduskeag farm stand represents himself in court Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The thief and the farmer he stole from in September 2010 both said they pursued justice as a matter of principle even though the purloined pumpkins and cornstalks were valued at just $26.

Ronney Vick, 63, of Hudson was convicted Wednesday of theft by unauthorized taking, a Class E misdemeanor, by a Penobscot County jury.

Vick acted as his own attorney. He said after he was was sentenced to pay a $250 fine that he was glad he exercised his right to a jury trial and defended himself.

“It was a matter of principle,” he said. “I didn’t want this on my record and I felt confident that I could defend myself. It was too costly to hire an attorney.”

Because the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office was not asking that the defendant be sentenced to jail if found guilty, Vick did not qualify for a court-appointed attorney.

Tom Davis III, 40, of Kenduskeag sat with his wife and children in a second-floor courtroom of the Penobscot Judicial Center for the trial. The family left as the jury began deliberating.

“It was the principle of the thing,” Davis said in a telephone interview late Wednesday afternoon. “It was not about the money.”

Davis said that his children, who are teenagers, work in the pumpkin patch at the Kenduskeag farm and save the money for college.

“I was not going to expect my kids to slog through mud lugging slimy pumpkins that weigh almost as much as they do to the tailgate of a pickup truck, then clean them up for sale to let someone walk off with them without paying for them,” he said. “That doesn’t set a very good example for my kids.”

Davis said that preparing for and attending the trial cost him more in gas and time than the $26 the six pumpkins and two cornstalks Vick was convicted of stealing were worth.

Vick testified that he put $10 in a can at the farm stand in Kenduskeag and planned to return the next day to pay the other $16.

Brad Libby, who works on the farm, testified that Vick put pumpkins in the back seat of his car, then prepared to drive away, Assistant District Attorney Tracy Collins Lacher said while the jury was deliberating. Libby said he confronted the man about his not paying for the items. Vick then unloaded his car and left.

Davis called police and Vick was summoned. Vick exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial.

Maine is one of the few states that allow defendants charged with misdemeanors to have a jury trial, Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy said Wednesday. In most states, only defendants charged with felonies have the right to a jury trial. Defendants charged with misdemeanors in most states are entitled only to jury-waived trials.

The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for an hour Wednesday before announcing its verdict about 3:20 p.m. The trial began with opening arguments Wednesday morning.

After the verdict, Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy imposed the fine on Vick. The defendant faced up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

He was not ordered to pay restitution because the merchandise he took was recovered, according to Lacher.

The exact cost of prosecuting Vick is difficult to determine. The cost to the District Attorney’s Office to take the case to trial was about $500, according to Almy.

The 14 jurors, including 12 alternates, were paid $10 per day each plus 15 cents per mile to cover travel expenses, which most likely totaled about $160, Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the court system said Wednesday.

The three court officers needed in the courtroom for the trial each earned $116 for the day, she said. The judge, the clerk and court reporter would have been working whether Vick had decided to go to trial or not, so their salaries and benefits should not be used to determine the cost of his trial, Lynch said.

That puts the cost of prosecuting Vick at $1,008.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect pronunciation key for Assistant District Attorney Tracy Lacher's last name. It is pronounced LOCK-er, not LACK-er.

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