Man said he'd cut her throat

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

A Lewisburg man who pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated assault was sentenced to five years in prison last week.

Billy Wayne Vestal, 65, of 5th Avenue North, admitted he pulled a knife on the victim on Jan. 22, according to the report by Lewisburg Police Officer Clyde Ragsdale.

Vestal displayed a knife and put it to the throat of the victim, Ragsdale reported. The victim told the officer Vestal said "he would kill her...and cut her throat." There were two witnesses to the assault, which allegedly occured because Vestal suspected the victim had stolen the $10 he gave her to buy cigarettes.

"My training in Vietnam was to use a knife when attacked," Vestal told Crystal Gray of the Board of Probation and Parole when she interviewed him for a pre-sentence report. He repeated this when given a chance to speak in court, stating, "What they trained me to do is still in my head. When I'm threatened I react. I was scared she was going to hit me."

Vestal's service in the Army from 1967-1970 was said to have caused Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and attorney Michael Collins of the Public Defender's Office emphasized this was the reason for Vestal's behavior, which includes numerous arrests for public intoxication.

"These things build up over time," Collins said. "You can see an escalating pattern."

The sentencing hearing was conducted by Judge Stella Hargrove from Maury County.

"Tell me what the sentence should be," said Hargrove.

"Lengthy," said Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard. "Near the top of the range. This is at least his fifth crime against a person. This man is dangerous."

Vestal has multiple health problems and uses a walker, but this did not prevent him from assaulting the woman.

"He was using that walker when he committed that offense," said Barnard. "He's able to get around. The knife was underneath the seat of the walker."

Barnard suggested alternative release, plus the use of a monitoring system, and Collins agreed.

"Mr. Vestal's health is deteriorating," Collins said. "He has a long list of mental and physical conditions. It causes a hardship on the jail."

Hargrove looked at Vestal's record of 15 misdemeanor convictions, and noted he had just finished his 11th probation when he committed this offense.

"I think we've put up with him long enough," Hargrove said. "He's only had misdemeanor convictions up to now because the court has been lenient with him. He's had his chances at treatment and rehabilitation."

The judge sentenced Vestal to five years in prison, requesting he be housed in a special-needs section. Vestal must serve at least 30 percent of his sentence before being eligible for a parole hearing.

Vestal would have been sentenced by Hargrove on Aug. 22, but he left the courtroom before she arrived that day and disappeared. His bond was revoked and he was arrested on Oct. 22.

Vestal was the cause of Magistrate Donnell Kelly's resignation after an altercation at Marshall County Jail on Jan. 22, when Vestal was being booked in after his arrest for aggravated assault. Vestal struck Kelly "lightly" with his cane, and Kelly responded with blows to Vestal's face, according to court documents. Because Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler regards Kelly as a friend, he recused himself from Vestal's sentencing.

Also sentenced to five years last week was Stephen B. Marler, 20, of Culleoka, who pleaded guilty to two aggravated burglaries and four thefts he committed earlier this year. In addition to the effective five-year sentence, Crigler ordered Marler to pay $9,370 in restitution to his victims.

According to his case file, Marler graduated from Marshall County High School in December 2009. From July 2010 to July 2011, he attended ITT Tech in Nashville, studying construction management, but left because of "lack of money and drugs."

"I've been struggling with a drug addiction with pills and cocaine," Marler told Gray for his pre-sentence report. "I was looking for any way to support my habit. I couldn't maintain a steady drug addiction ran my life. Now I have an option to move the right direction. I'm sober now and I see what life really is."

Restitution was also ordered in the case of Stanley D. Hargrove, 49, of Long Distance Road. Hargrove pleaded guilty to five counts of vandalism over $1,000. He was sentenced to four years on probation, and ordered to pay restitution of $20,275 to the people whose vehicles he damaged between February and April. Crigler specified Hargrove is to pay restitution and costs at the rate of $450 per month. There is no explanation in his case file of the motive for this vandalism, and Hargrove appears to have made no statements to law enforcement.

Two men appeared in Circuit Court for arraignment on drug charges, after being indicted during the October session of the grand jury.

Chad R. Dietz, 34, of Wartrace, was charged with one count of initiation of the process to manufacture methamphetamine. The Public Defender's Office was appointed to represent him.

Joshua T. Curry, 25, of Cornersville, was charged with manufacturing marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and simple possession. Curry will be represented by local attorney and former General Sessions Judge Steve Bowden.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment constitutes only charges and that every person is presumed innocent until their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.