Three men sentenced Wednesday for their involvement in the burglary of a Bass Road church will spend no time in prison as long as they pay nearly $50,000 in restitution and don’t violate the terms of their probations.
Matthew Patrick Brown, 22, and Benjamin Ryan Brantley, 19, pleaded guilty to burglarizing Martha Bowman United Methodist Church on Jan. 29, 2009. A third man, Matthew Steven Scroggins, 20, pleaded guilty to theft by receiving stolen property.
Charges were dropped against 19-year-old Brandon George Bettencourt, of a King Alfred Drive address, who had been indicted along with the other three men.
A juvenile also charged in the case was prosecuted in Bibb County Juvenile Court, assistant district attorney Sharell Lewis said. The District Attorney’s Office would not release information about the juvenile’s case because of his age and the charges. At the time of his arrest, the boy was 16.
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Brown, a church member who lives on Lower Thomaston Road, unlocked a window at the church to allow him access to the building when it was unoccupied, according to a document filed in Bibb County Superior Court that outlined the evidence the state would have presented had the case gone to trial.
According to that document:
Brown entered the church and took video game equipment on at least two occasions before the Jan. 29 burglary.
Scroggins, Brantley, Bettencourt and the juvenile said Brown discussed breaking into the church on multiple occasions. At the time of the burglary, Brown was unemployed, had a loan on his car and needed money to avoid repossession. He also had financial obligations relating to dealings in marijuana.
On Jan. 29, Brown and Brantley, of Dogwood Circle, entered the church through the unlocked window and subsequently broke into church offices using their fists and kicking holes in the Sheetrock. Once inside, they took TVs, two safes, electronics, musical equipment and computer equipment.
Brown and Brantley took the items to Brantley’s house. Brown, Brantley and the juvenile returned to the church and took more items, including a large coin container that children at the church used to store their offerings. The group later took the stolen items to Bettencourt’s home, where they woke up Scroggins and Bettencourt.
Bettencourt didn’t want the items in his bedroom, so they moved all the stolen goods to the attic except for the coin container. During a two-week period, the four men and the juvenile took coins from the offering container to various Coin-Star locations, where they coverted about $500 to cash. After seeing media coverage of the burglary, Scroggins and the juvenile dumped the two safes in a wooded area in Jones County. They later tried to open the safes, but just damaged them instead.
A ranger with the Department of Natural Resources spotted Scroggins, of Windemere Circle, and the juvenile and took them into custody. Items from the church were found inside the safes. Scroggins confessed to Bibb County sheriff’s investigators.
In response to a tip, Brantley and Brown disposed of most of the remaining stolen items. Brown has admitted that he kept an amplifier, which he used to settle a drug debt.
After Brantley and Brown were arrested, Brantley cooperated with deputies and took a District Attorney’s Office investigator to the location where he helped dump the items. Several of the items were still there, but they weren’t salvageable.
In all, 16 rooms at the church were vandalized and items valued at more than $19,000 were taken. The cost of repairs and replacement of the stolen items was $49,874.96, according to the document.
Brown, Brantley and Scroggins were in court Wednesday afternoon, accompanied by family members. While standing in front of the judge, each one was quiet and respectful while answering the judge’s questions and being sentenced.
In each man’s case, Judge S. Phillip Brown chose to follow a joint recommendation for sentencing presented by the prosecutor and defense attorneys.
Brown was sentenced to two years in prison and 18 years on probation, with the prison time suspended as long as Brown abides by the terms of his probation. Brantley was sentenced to one year in a detention center and 19 years on probation, with the detention center time suspended as long as he abides by the terms of his probation.
Lewis said Scroggins was accused of damaging multiple businesses with graffiti about six months before his arrest in connection with the burglary. When he was arrested in the burglary case, she told him that he might get a lighter sentence if he contacted the graffiti victims and repaired the damage.
In the next several months, he used his own money to repair damage at 25 businesses in Bibb County, she said.
Because of Scroggins’ work, Lewis allowed him to plead guilty to the lesser charge of theft by receiving stolen property.
The judge sentenced Scroggins to 90 days in a detention center followed by nine years and 275 days on probation, with the detention center time suspended as long as he abides by the terms of his probation.
Brown, a welder, and Brantley, a home-schooled student who also works in roofing, must together pay $48,874.96 in restitution to the church’s insurance company and $1,000 to the church.
Scroggins was ordered to pay $1,500 toward the total $49,874.96 restitution.
Brown and Brantley’s probation may be ended after 10 years if they have repaid all the restitution and have not violated the terms of their probation.
Under the same conditions, Scroggins’ probation could be terminated after three years.
All three men asked to be sentenced as first offenders, meaning if they complete their punishments without violating probation, their criminal records won’t include felony convictions. If they violate the terms of their probations, though, Brown and Brantley could be ordered to serve the remainder of their sentences in prison, up to 20 years. Scroggins could be ordered to serve up to 10 years in prison.
Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.