DOBSON — A third co-defendant accused of participating in an Elkin theft ring was convicted Tuesday in Superior Court.
Ashley Nicole Speer, 21, of Pegram Street, pleaded guilty by Alford decision to 15 counts of felony possession of stolen goods and property, one count each of felony breaking and entering, larceny after breaking and entering and possession of burglary tools, and eight counts of misdemeanor larceny.
An Alford plea indicates the defendant finds it in their best interests to plead guilty but doesn’t admit to actually having committed the crime.
Speer was among four suspects charged after officers with the Elkin Police Department discovered a Pegram Street residence full of stolen merchandise in March during the execution of a search warrant, connecting the residents with a string of break-ins reported in Elkin and the surrounding areas.
Letonya Ann Sidden, 40, (Speer’s mother), Guillermo Rodriguez, 48, and Christopher Blaine Settle, 24, (Speer’s boyfriend), were also charged.
Sidden was sentenced in September to three to 6.6 years in prison followed by consecutive suspended sentences and supervised probation.
Settle was sentenced Nov. 4 to 3.6 to 7.6 years in prison, also followed by consecutive suspended sentences and supervised probation.
According to a summary of the evidence presented by the state, Speer was first connected to the illegal activity on Feb. 29.
A witness had identified a vehicle leaving the scene of a break-in reported earlier that day, which Speer was later found driving with Settle riding as a passenger.
Items found in the vehicle, which belonged to Sidden, were identified by the victims of the earlier break-in.
She was initially charged with felony possession of burglary tools and misdemeanor possession of stolen goods, but more warrants were issued following the execution of the search warrant.
Assistant District Attorney Mike Beal explained that four misdemeanor larceny charges stemmed from an unrelated incident that occurred in August, when Speer and Settle had been captured on video surveillance stealing four purses from a break room at Candle Cooperation of America.
Youth and upbringing
Beal noted to the court two reasons he considered Speer’s situation different from Settle’s: the fact that Speer has no prior criminal record and that most of the victims knew her.
Though defendant’s young age and her mother’s role in the incidents were not lost on the victims, the eight victims who spoke in court were still hurting from the crimes perpetrated against them.
“I feel sorry for Ashley, she was probably at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Gretta Lytton, a single parent of two children, who also noted, “She’s old enough to know right from wrong…it’s not fair for us hard-working people.”
Doris Adams shared how her home had been broken into while she cared for a friend dying from stage four cancer.
The friend died while Adams dealt with the aftermath of the crime, she said.
“I was not with him to take care of him,” she said.
“I think she needs some help,” Adams said of Speer, but not necessarily at the cost of justice.
“All of us here have gone through so much because of it,” she said. “I had to go through a double whammy because of it.”
Sharon Mitchell spoke of her mother, who died before her stolen rings were recovered.
“She would give you the shirt off her back,” Mitchell recalled. “They befriended her,” she said. “They called her Miss Dot. They acted like they cared about her then they took her two rings.”
Ricky Lyons recalled finding his home in shambles after returning from working third shift.
“I pushed the door open and my heart dropped. My safe place was gone,” he said, asking that justice be served.
“I’d like to see her get some help because she’s young and doesn’t need to be in that situation,” he said.
Delphine VanEaton had a more familiar relationship with Speer.
“I thought I knew Ashley. She’s been to my house,” she said. “I would never thought someone I thought I knew would have done something like this to me.”
VanEaton said she’s having to move from her apartment.
“I have no faith, no trust, I’m afraid all the time,” she said. “I’m going to pray for her, because that’s what God wants me to do and it’s the right thing to do. But I want justice.”
Brad and Barbara Freeman returned home from church on Valentine’s Day to find their home had been robbed.
Barbara Freeman noted how her eight-year-old daughter still asks every night if she’s going to be ok.
“It’s hard to fix that,” she said. “I hope she (Speer) gets the help she needs,” she said, “and that justice is served for it.”
Brad Freeman described the impact of the crime.
“It’s emotional, it’s devastating that your safe haven was violated,” he said. “It’s not a slap on the wrist kind of thing.”
Cheryl Whitaker was perhaps the most familiar with the defendant, having at one point been her cheerleading coach.
“I tried to be a mentor for her,” Whitaker said. “I tried so desperately to make a difference in her life. Had I done that, we wouldn’t be seated her today. There’s no way to tell.”
Defense Attorney Karen Adams said her client asked her to apologize to all the victims, adding that the situation has been beneficial to Speer in the sense that it removed her from Settle and her mother, against whom she had been willing to testify.
Jail, and a second chance
Presiding Judge Massey sentenced Speer to a 6- to 17-month period of imprisonment in the N.C. Department of Adult Corrections.
He gave her a second, consecutive sentence of six to 17 months, which, “after having considered it very carefully I have decided to suspend this sentence,” he stated.
Upon her release from prison, Speer is to be placed on supervised probation for 48 months and complete 100 hours of community service.
She was also ordered to pay a minimum of $43 per month against her case and not test positive or be found in possession of controlled substances or stolen goods.
“Fail to do that and there will be consequences,” Massey said.
Speer will also be required to participate in electronic monitoring for 180 days.
She was given four more consecutive six- to 17- month sentences, which were also suspended with the same terms.
“I’m so glad you got to listen to these victim’s talk,” he told Speer.
“I hope you gain some insight to understanding your actions,” and the “damage, fear and misery you caused,” he said. “I hope you’re impressed by how many of these people still have regard for you and pray for you.”
Massey said he considered giving the defendant a full year in prison but was swayed by Speer’s clean record and role in the thefts.
“Your role, it appears, may have been more passive,” he said, hoping that six months will be “sufficient,” for Speer to avoid any behavior in the future that will expose her to more prison time.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.