Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 7, 2013

Carter man sentenced for grave marker theft

Joe Lewis

GRAYSON — A Carter County man was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison for stealing markers from the graves of World War II veterans and attempting to sell them for scrap.

Derrick K. Hales 26, of Hitchins, pleaded guilty last month to four counts of violating graves. The charges were all Class D felonies, each carrying a one- to five-year prison sentence.

At his sentencing, Hale was brief and contrite in his responses to questions from Carter Circuit Judge Rebecca Phillips and made no comments on his own behalf before the sentence was pronounced.

“In my eyes this is a very heinous crime. I think that the offer needed to be where it’s at to discourage this type of thing from happening again,” Carter Commonwealth’s Attorney Brandon Ison said.

Retired U.S. Army CSM Robert Kahl was the first of several veterans who directly addressed Hale during the hearing.

“I don’t know where you ever got the thought in your mind to do something like this. I’ve served in the honor guard and seen those families mourn and now you’ve caused them to mourn again,” he said.

“I hope that you never have the privilege of being buried in a marked grave so nobody will know where you lie,” said John Sellers, a Navy veteran and the grandson of local aviation pioneer Matthew Sellers.

“Violating anyone’s grave is a horrible thing, but the ironic part of all this is that you violated the graves of men who fought and died so that you could have the right to a trial by jury,” Phillips said. “I’ve dealt with you a lot, and I know you can do better than this. I hope that you’ll use this time in custody to better yourself.”

Under state sentencing guidelines, Hale will be eligible for parole after serving three years of his sentence, so long as the sentencing guidelines in his other convictions aren’t in conflict with parole eligibility requirements.

The grave-violation charges stemmed the theft of four brass and bronze plaques from the graves of veterans buried in Hill Crest Burial Park behind the Kentucky Christian University campus.

According to the Grayson Police Department, KCU, which maintains the cemetery, reported Dec. 21, 2011, there were two markers missing. Detective Roy Ison launched an investigation, and, through various interviews, Hale emerged as a suspect.

Police were able to confirm Hale did have some grave markers in his possession and tried to sell them at a local recycling center. The recycling center refused to buy the markers, and workers there made a copy of Hale’s identification card and contacted the police.

While the initial report was two markers were stolen, police subsequently learned there were four of them missing. The plaques were recovered.

The plaques were valued at $750 each and owned by the U.S. government.