CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County prosecutors agreed this week to reduce 39 felony charges levied against a Charleston man who stole more than $9,000 from his elderly neighbor, despite pleas from the victim's family that at least one of the felonies should stick.
After the charges were reduced Wednesday, Estill Forrest "Trip" Jones III, 30, pleaded guilty to 39 misdemeanor counts of petit larceny. Jones admitted that he stole $9,123 using Jean Graves' ATM card over about a two-week period.
Graves, 84, who has been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for several years, was staying in a Beckley assisted-living facility at the time of the thefts last year.
"I've been beside myself with grief," Jones said at Wednesday's plea hearing, during which his lawyer handed a check for $9,123 to a prosecutor, who in turn passed it to Graves' family members. "I don't know what could have led me to do this."
Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman sentenced Jones to two years of probation. Each misdemeanor charge carried a maximum of a year in a county jail.
"I am not happy at all with the outcome of this process," Jenny Graves, Jean Graves' niece, said in an email to the Gazette-Mail after the hearing. "Nobody, not one single person, considered the 84-year-old, mentally incapacitated Alzheimer's patient.
"Their philosophy was that she was getting her money back, so we should be happy and just shut up and go away," continued Jenny Graves, a resident of Richmond, Va. "Where is the justice in that?"
Assistant Kanawha County prosecutor Dan Holstein, the office's chief of staff, told the Gazette-Mail that prosecutors originally had expected to keep the felony charges. They decided that the misdemeanors were more appropriate because Jones, the son of Charleston attorney Estill Forrest Jones Jr., did not have a criminal history and was willing and able to repay the money he stole.
Holstein also said the state was willing to reduce the charges because Jones is employed, fully admitted to his actions, seemed remorseful and offered an apology to Graves' family.
"Every time that you swipe a card, it is, technically, a felony," Holstein said. "It was an issue of do we want to make a felon out of someone who stole a couple of hundred dollars here, couple hundred dollars there -- is he someone we want to make a felon if he has gainful employment?
"Some cases, yeah, we can prove a technical felony, but the right thing to do here is give him a chance," Holstein said. He said it's not uncommon for prosecutors to plead similar felony cases down to misdemeanors.