Appeals Court reverses portion of PB man’s sentence

A Pine Bluff man who was convicted of commercial burglary and theft of property last year will receive a shorter prison sentence because of a ruling Wednesday by the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

The court said there was substantial evidence that supported the burglary conviction, but there was not substantial evidence to support a felony theft-of-property conviction and sent the case back for re-sentencing.

Marcus Washington, 38, had been accused of entering the surgery waiting area at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in September 2011 and taking a computer.

At a bench trial, Debra Green, a hospital employee, testified that when she came to work on Sept. 19, 2011, her computer was missing, and a hospital security officer testified that surveillance video from the preceding weekend showed Washington entering a number of areas in the hospital, including a storage closet that was off limits to the general public. Washington was not a hospital employee.

Video also showed Washington leaving the storage area with a bag, then entering the surgery waiting area, which is closed on the weekends, and leaving with a large object in the bag.

A computer technician for the hospital testified that the hospital originally bought the computer for $850,26 in 2008, then had to pay $1,047.86 for a replacement.

Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis found Washington guilty of commercial burglary and felony theft of property. During the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecutors presented evidence of Washington’s four prior felony convictions.

Dennis sentenced Washington as a habitual offender to 10 years in prison on the charge of commercial burglary, and two years for felony theft of property, with the sentences to run consecutively (one after the other).

Washington appealed, contending that there was insufficient evidence to support either charge, but the appeals court disagreed on the commercial burglary charge, saying that because Washington was not an employee of the hospital, his entry into the storage closet and surgery waiting area satisfies the plain language of the law.

Regarding the theft of property charge, the appeals court said the only evidence that the computer was valued at more than $1,000 was testimony regarding replacement value, and there was no evidence introduced that indicated that the value increased from its original purchase price. State law requires that to support a felony conviction, the value of the missing items must be in excess of $1,000.

Appeals Court Judge Rhonda K. Wood said in the court ruling that because there was sufficient evidence to support a lesser included offense, the case was being sent back to Dennis with instructions to sentence Washington to theft of property, a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

According to the Department of Corrections website, Washington is serving his sentence at the Cummins Unit, and will be eligible to apply for parole in June 2014.