“I’m sorry I did it,” said James Richard Smith as he was sentenced in Oklahoma County District Court Wednesday for his part in stealing copper wires from donated tornado sirens that were meant to be used as a warning system for Luther residents.
Smith, 68, spoke briefly to Judge Cindy Truong but his apology was the only thing heard from the public area of the loud and bustling courtroom. Smith entered a blind guilty plea in January for the June 2015 incident and the subsequent charges of threatening witnesses including a former Town maintenance employee and Town Trustee Birlene Langley.
Langley was among about a half-dozen witnesses for the prosecution, although she did not speak in court today. The district attorney relayed Langley’s statements that Smith had threatened her after his arrest saying he was “going to get her,” and drove intimidatingly past her home. The prosecutor also acknowledged that Smith’s home is close to hers in such a small town. As part of Smith’s sentence, he is ordered to stay away from Langley. Smith is also ordered to stay clear of the former maintenance employee who reported the theft. Smith later was charged with trying to run him off the road as they traveled toward each other on Dogwood driving about 25 mph.
The state pushed for prison time and Smith’s attorney asked for probation citing his client’s health concerns and remorse.
The copper theft incident, as relayed in court through the testimony of investigators from the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, involved Smith encouraging Department of Corrections inmates who were working in the town to strip the copper and aluminum wires for cash in June 2015. They didn’t get very much cash for the effort. Smith pocketed about $40 after he split the $150 with the inmates, and Wednesday he was sentenced to two years in prison. Court observers said that although he was sentenced to two years, he’ll likely serve less than a year.
Here is the breakdown and correction on the sentencing, according to Smith’s attorney, Samuel Chavers:
Count 1: 2 years in DOC (involving selling copper in Lincoln County).
Count 2: 2 years in Doc (taking the copper).
Count 1: 2 in/ 8 out
Count 2: 2 in/ 8 out
All sentences will be served concurrently.
Still, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Adams said he is pleased with the sentence. “We asked for prison time and we got it,” he said after Smith was handcuffed for transport to the county jail. Adams said Smith abused his public position and trust by using his position for personal gain.
“The issue is the victims. This isn’t about just stealing. This is immoral. This is public corruption,” Adams said in court. “He stole wires from tornado sirens … in Oklahoma! We need tornado sirens. In Oklahoma, people die from tornadoes.” Adams also said Smith had a history involving criminal incidents that ranged from food stamp fraud, petty theft and burglary.
Chavers cross-examined the state’s witnesses trying to establish that the sirens might have been inoperable, and had been on the ground behind town hall for some time, not being utilized. He also affirmed there was not a stated value on the sirens that were donated from the City of Del City.
But Chavers said his client was willing to make restitution. To show community support for Smith, his attorney provided a file containing 35 letters written on Smith’s behalf from family, friends, doctors and others.
“No doubt he screwed up and he accepts responsibility. He fully acknowledges he embarrassed himself and his family and it has cost a lot. What he did defies logic for $150 and shows a lack of good judgement. He accepts responsibility and we ask for probation.”
Chavers said his client is 68 years old and has various medical issues, including a heart condition that requires medication and a defibrillator.
Smith’s sentence also includes making restitution of $6,000 to Oklahoma County Emergency Management.
Smith was a Luther Town Trustee for 12 years, including a stint as mayor.