CASSOPOLIS — Needing money to pay court fines and costs stemming from an earlier conviction, a Dowagiac man tried to obtain it by pulling off yet another crime.
Today, James Starling, 44, described by Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz as a “frequent frauder,’’ learned his penalty in Cass Circuit Court as he was sentenced by Judge Michael Dodge to a year in jail.
But he at least avoided prison, where he had been sentenced three times before.
Fitz wasn’t flattering in his portrayal of Starling, who admitted to resisting and obstructing the police officer that apprehended him in the wake of an Aug. 18 shoplifting incident at the Family Dollar Store in Dowagiac. According to the prosecutor, Starling said in a pre-sentence report that he consumes alcohol and uses cocaine daily, and hasn’t worked since 1996.
James Miller, Starling’s court-appointed attorney, agreed his client’s attempted theft was tied to his need to pay court-ordered fees.
“He was panicking with the fines and costs issue,’’ he said.
Dodge said that when Starling ran from the store, a police officer who pursued him was forced to use Mace to subdue him.
Starling will receive credit for the 77 days already served. Also, Dodge said, he can be released after serving 270 days providing he somehow manages to pay his fines and costs.
Also Friday, a Cassopolis teenager who with an accomplice vandalized Squires Elementary School in Cassopolis and two nearby churches was placed on two years of probation. But a possible worse consequence for 17-year-old David Steven, Dodge said, is that the felony on his record might disrupt his plans to join the Navy.
Fitz said Steven and Dalton Smith, who also has admitted guilt but has yet to be sentenced, used “terrible judgment’’ on July 15 when they broke into the school and churches and caused nearly $7,000 in damage. At the school, the two destroyed cameras affixed to ceilings, wrote graffiti on chalkboards and discharged fire extinguishers throughout the building, Fitz said.
“If he’d been going to church on Sunday morning, perhaps we wouldn’t be here,’’ the prosecutor said of Steven.
Dodge ordered $6,882 shared restitution but added no jail time beyond the 85 days Steven has served. Sentenced also to probation but a year in jail, minus 266 days served, was Dustin Gibson, 24, of Goshen, who admitted to breaking into an occupied Edwardsburg apartment with an accomplice early Feb. 11 and stealing a television set and auto. Gibson apologized and told Dodge he’s not the person now that he was then.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: