We have learned from years of experience that many people consider few deeds more despicable than desecrating a grave, whether it is vandalizing tombstones, stealing flowers lovingly placed on the final resting places of beloved family members or using graveyards as a place to party late at night.
But if the misdeed involves stealing markers from the graves of World War II in hopes of getting money by selling the stolen markers for scrap metal, the deed becomes that much more despicable and is sure to raise the ire of not only family members but also veterans.
That’s why 26-year-old Derrick K. Hale of Hitchins surely became one of the most disliked people in Carter County after pleading guilty to four counts of stealing markers from the graves of veterans.
While the crimes he admitted to committing were all Class D felonies carrying sentences of one to five years, by considering each crime separately, Hale could spend a total of 15 years behind bars, although that is unlikely.
While Hale appeared contrite and had little to say at his sentencing before Carter Circuit Judge Rebecca Phillips, others let the court know what they thought of Hale’s actions.
“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 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,” Judge 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. To its credit, the recycling center refused to buy the markers, and workers there made a copy of Hale’s identification card and contacted the police.
Fortunately, the plaques — valued at $750 each and owned by the U.S. government — have all been returned.
There is no indication that Derrick Hale is a dangerous criminal, but he did steal grave markers that family members honor and cherish in hopes of enriching himself by selling them. When he is released from prison, our hope is that he will follow the judge’s advice by bettering himself.