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Prior to entering a plea for stealing and destroying a church’s Nativity scene last December, Matthew Barringer took advantage of a chance to get out in front of his punishment.
Barringer, one of three adults and two juveniles charged in the crime in which the Nativity figures placed in front of Shiloh United Methodist Church were taken, completed more than 120 hours of community service and paid the church $517 in restitution prior to Friday’s court date for the crime. With that in mind, a plea agreement struck with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, and affirmed by Circuit Court Judge James Updike at last week’s hearing, dropped his felony charges of grand larceny and property damage to misdemeanors and netted him 60 days in jail, with another 10 months of jail time suspended.
Barringer pleaded guilty to the amended misdemeanor charges.
According to Chief Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Ayers, the Forest church asked that the defendants in the case have their charges reduced to misdemeanors so that the charges wouldn’t follow them as felonies throughout the rest of their lives.
Barringer, 19, was one of five defendants charged and was described as remorseful about his actions and cooperative with authorities during the investigation.
But another defendant in the case who was also in court last week, will spend more time in jail for his part in the crime.
Scott Edward Cooley, 20, of Forest received a 12 month jail sentence, but his offenses of larceny and property damage were also reduced to misdemeanors. Cooley will also have to pay $517 in restitution back to the church.
“They certainly took it a little too far when they destroyed the scene,” Ayers said of last December’s crime by the defendants. Cooley was identified as one of the primary culprits.
The cases against the two juveniles have already made their way through juvenile and domestic relations court. Their charges were also reduced to misdemeanors and they were ordered to pay restitution and perform community service. They were placed on probation to monitor their progress.
“The church wanted all of them held accountable but didn’t necessarily want something that would follow them the rest of their lives,” Ayers said of the charges.
The final adult defendant, John Morgan Killgo of Forest, is scheduled to be in court for a plea on Aug. 16. Killgo was the first to step forward and admit responsibility in the case.
The incident occurred on Dec. 9 of last year, during a birthday party for one of the adult defendants. Ayers said taking the Nativity scene began as a prank, but became worse when, after news reports of the crime brought attention to it, the decision was made to destroy the Nativity figures.
The defendants had taken a photo of themselves with the figures and posted it on Facebook. Investigators used the photo to help identify the suspects.
Ayers said Cooley actually participated in the destruction of the figures, cutting them up and hauling them off to the landfill to get rid of them.
The church estimated value of the 12 figures to be between $2,000 and $2,500.
The Nativity figures were taken from Shiloh UMC, 18121 Forest Rd, located at the corner of Graves Mill Road and Forest Road.
The stolen figures included: three wise men, two sheep, one shepherd, one cow, one camel, one donkey, Mary and Joseph, and baby Jesus. All that was left was a sheep and the stable.
The figures were three to four feet tall, freshly painted and had been used for close to 50 years. The church didn’t go without a Nativity scene for long — church members found a new Nativity scene on the property not long after the theft. The donors left a note that simply said they were sorry to see the church lose its Nativity scene.