Judge Robert Crigler sentenced a Moore County man to nine months in prison to be followed by three years probation at a hearing on Wednesday.
Norman Henry Litchford, 70, pleaded guilty to three cases of theft from residents of Marshall County. Two cases included burglary because Litchford broke in to buildings in order to steal the items in question.
It emerged in court that Litchford had been stealing lawnmowers, lawncare equipment, trailers, and 4-wheelers from a wide area of Middle Tennessee, as well as north Alabama, and north Georgia, for about 10 months.
Marshall County Sheriff's Department Capt. Norman Dalton described how Litchford sold the things he stole with the help of R. L. Hall who had worked with him at the Wilson Sporting Goods factory in Tullahoma. Hall lives on Hwy 50 between Lynchburg and Winchester. Moore County Detective Mike Rainey lives about a mile and a half from Hall's residence and said, "R. L. always had trailers and mowers for sale (in his yard)."
Rainey told the court what he found when he got a warrant and searched Litchford's property. He and the other detectives found several serial number tags which had been cut off equipment, and 12 license plates from Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia that had been on trailers reported stolen. They found four or five trailers without serial numbers, and numerous trimmers and weed-eaters.
"A normal man wouldn't have 10 or 12 weed-eaters," commented Rainey.
The Moore County Sheriff's Department placed ads in local papers, asking for anyone who had purchased something from Litchford to come forward. Rainey said 18 people contacted them, and as a result, 13 stolen items were returned to their rightful owners.
These included a John Deere Zero-Turn mower and a Honda 4-wheeler from Marshall County; three four-wheelers from Madison County, Ala.; an EZtrak zero-turn mower and a four-wheeler from Scottsboro, Ala.; a Kubota mower from Bedford County; a Dixie zero-turn mower from Van Buren County; John Deere zero-turn mowers from Lincoln and Madison Counties, and a four-wheeler from Jackson, Tenn. Dalton said these people were "double victims" because they had lost both the equipment they had bought and the money they had paid.
The thefts had gone unsolved and unconnected until an observant Marshall County resident, Amanda Webb, gave police a description of the truck and driver that she saw leaving Tony Williams' home, pulling Williams' trailer with his lawn mower on it.
Litchford was picked up by police in Trenton, Ga. with another stolen trailer and mower.
"I apologize to the court and the people and I hope they can forgive me," said Litchford when he was allowed to speak. "I have lost everything I own, including my truck and my clothes. I ask for leniency."
Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard pointed out that Litchford's 10 months of crime had affected the whole of the 17th Judicial District, plus other counties in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
"He needs to be locked up and he needs to pay," Barnard said. "Look at the wide area he touched and the number of people he harmed."
Dalton agreed, saying he was a firm believer in custodial sentences as a deterrent to crime.
Judge Crigler balanced these factors against Litchford's previously clean record, his long stable work history, and the fact that he had owned up and pleaded guilty.
"This is certainly a unique case," said the judge, before passing a sentence of nine months in prison and three years' probation. Litchford has already served 105 days in jail, so he could be getting out sometime next summer. The judge said he would leave the matter of the "enormous" restitution to the probation department. Restitution in the Marshall County cases alone totals over $16,000.
Charges may yet be brought against Litchford in other jurisdictions, and Rainey said it was also possible that Hall would be indicted.