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Former county worker sentenced after guilty plea

Former county worker sentenced after guilty plea

October 29th, 2013 in News

The visiting judge rejected the original sentencing agreement.

But, after some further discussions with her attorney, Melissa Hart, 36 - a former Cole County circuit clerk's Criminal Division supervisor - pleaded guilty Monday morning to stealing $12,600 from the office.

Ralls County Associate Circuit Judge David C. Mobley, assigned to the case after Cole County's judges removed themselves from it, sentenced Hart to a year in jail, then suspended the execution of that sentence.

He ordered her to do 50 hours of community service and make full restitution - which Hart, 7012 Bates Road, already has done.

She pleaded guilty to a new, misdemeanor charge on what previously had been scheduled as the first day of a three-day trial.

The jury was canceled after the

attorneys met with Mobley in a telephone conference call last week.

A Cole County grand jury indicted Hart on Dec. 20, 2011, with a felony charge of stealing at least $500 from the circuit clerk's office, between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011.

The total amount of the theft - $12,600 - never had been announced until Monday's hearing.

Conviction of the Class C felony could have resulted in a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

Special Prosecutor Merilee A. Crockett of the Boone County prosecutor's office gave Mobley the amended, misdemeanor charge at the beginning of Monday's hearing.

It still charged Hart with stealing "currency," without defining the amount.

The original agreement between prosecution and defense lawyers had Hart pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge, and receiving a suspended imposition of any sentence, known as an "SIS."

But Mobley had told Crockett and Shane Farrow, Hart's lawyer, during last week's conference call that he had "reservations about accepting an SIS."

Under Missouri law, if a person successfully completes their probation period after receiving an SIS, the record of their conviction is erased from public records although it still is available to law enforcement - and still can be used against the convicted person in some law enforcement and job situations.

But the suspended execution of a sentence means someone who violates their parole conditions still can be ordered to serve the full sentence - and the conviction remains a part of the permanent record.

Mobley told Hart: "I want you to succeed with this ... second chance. You don't get a third chance."

He ordered Hart to serve a two-year, "court-monitored" probation - and she has 120 days to complete 50 hours of community service, "monitored by the prosecuting attorney's office."

He told Hart: "If you have (only) 49 hours, you'll be back in front of me, explaining why."

He also ordered her to pay court costs, obey all local ordinances and state and local laws and report to the court any arrests within 48 hours.

Mobley said the main points he wanted Hart to understand are: "You're being given a really great break when (the prosecutor) agreed to cut this down to a misdemeanor. ...

"The bottom line is, you stole $12,600 of the court's money."

He gave Hart an opportunity to explain what happened.

"It was a bad decision, ultimately," she said, noting that mounting medical bills for herself and other family members over the "couple of years leading up to it" made the theft seem like an idea.

"It was my intention to pay it back," Hart added. "But (the theft) came to light before I could."