SANDY HOOK —
A sentence that included compulsory church attendance and public humiliation apparently proved to be an ineffective deterrent for an Elliott County man.
James Talbot Nickell, 23, of Sandy Hook, who pleaded guilty in December to stealing musical equipment from a church, was arrested again Thursday on a charge of theft by unlawful taking more than $500, a felony, according to the Elliott County Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff’s department wasn’t releasing details on the case. A spokesman did say Nickell was arrested at his home without incident. He was lodged in the Big Sandy Regional Detention Center.
Nickell’s arrest likely will invalidate the plea bargain in his prior case, meaning he could be facing up to a year in jail on that conviction. He had previously avoided jail time by pleading guilty to misdemeanor receiving stolen property and agreeing to an unusual sentence — attend services for six consecutive Sundays at First Baptist Church of Sandy Hook, the victim in the case, and walk in front of the church for an hour before and after services wearing a sandwich sign reading “I stole from this church.”
The prior charges against Nickell stemmed from a Dec. 8 incident where guitars and amplifiers were stolen from the church and found in his closet a short time later. The sentenced was imposed by Elliott District Judge Rupert Wilhoit on Dec. 20.
Nickell began serving his sentence on Jan. 13 and was at the church again this past Sunday. Had he successfully completed it, his sentence would have ended on Feb. 17.
The alternative sentence for Nickell was worked out by his attorney, Wilhoit, Assistant Elliott County Attorney Reid Glass, the prosecutor in the case, and Sheriff Jimmy Stephens.
Some critics have charged the plea agreement amounted to an attempt to force religion on Nickell, but Glass said Thursday he didn’t see it that way.
He also noted that Nickell had entered into the arrangement voluntarily and said he was somewhat surprised he did.
“Jail is pretty much a cakewalk these days,” he said. “For a lot of people, it’s better than the conditions they have at home.”
However, Glass — who wasn’t aware of Nickell’s most recent arrest when he spoke to a reporter — did say he thought Nickell should take full advantage of the opportunity that had been given him.
“The upside potential for him is huge,” he said. “if he does embrace God, maybe that will be a door that will open for him.”
Glass said he and others had been exploring the possibility of using alternative sentences that include public humiliation as a means of stemming a recent tide of thefts in Elliott County. He said the original idea was to apply such a sentence to a case where someone had stolen from a business. But, he said Nickell seemed to be a good candidate for such a sentence and his victim just happened to be a church.
KENNETH HART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or