Woman Gets 7-10 Years for Stealing From Casper-Area Gravesites
A woman who admitted in May to stealing memorial vases from grave sites and selling those vases as scrap metal was sentenced to a term of imprisonment Wednesday afternoon in Natrona County District Court.
Judge Catherine Wilking sentenced 51-year-old Janna L. Szynskie to a term of seven-10 years in prison on one count of wrongful taking or disposing or property.
Szynskie was also ordered to pay $40,500 in restitution, a fraction of the $173,328 requested by Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen. Blonigen said he based his figure on the cost of $368 to replace each of the 471 vases stolen.
Blonigen told Wilking that 374 victims have been identified, and they continued to come forward up until a few days before Wednesday's sentencing hearing.
Six victims stood up in the packed courtroom to describe the impact of Szynskie's actions.
"What you have done is unconscionable," Rhonda Rice said to Szynskie. "Did your inner voice not tell you that what you're doing is wrong?"
"One week before she desecrated the graves, we lost my niece to cancer," another victim told the court. "That was a double-whammy."
Szynskie, through muffled sobs, said, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
"She stole from the grave of our twin -- somebody that didn't get to take a breath," the final victim told Wilking. He asked Wilking not to honor any plea agreement, due to Szynskie's arrest for shoplifting and trespassing at Walmart while out on bond last week.
The impact of Szynskie's crime, Blonigen said after the victims spoke, has been devastating.
"We don't even count all those people who don't have anyone to speak for them," he emphasized.
A particularly troubling aspect of the crime, Blonigen told Wilking, was Szynskie's apparent willingness to do anything for money, including stealing items intended to memorialize lost loved ones.
Blonigen recommended a five- to 10-year prison sentence, contending that probation would likely not be effective. He detailed Szynskie's criminal history, which includes a drug charge, theft and embezzlement, as well as her previous incarceration and three prior attempts at inpatient treatment for substance abuse.
Defense attorney Curtis Cheney requested a sentence of probation.
"She doesn't forgive herself for this," Cheney told the court. He said Szynskie suffers from depression, has previously had issues with bipolar disorder and "has no self esteem."
He suggested that she may suffer from kleptomania, which Cheney claimed was common in people with emotional issues.
Szynskie told the writer of the pre-sentence investigation report that her current relationship is violent, and Cheney said all of her previous relationships have been plagued by physical and emotional abuse.
"I'm a worthless, stupid parasite and someone should do everyone a favor and put a bullet in my head," Szynskie told the PSI writer, according to Cheney.
"I can't look you in the eye. I can't look them in the eye, and I know they're all looking at me," Szynskie said in her statement to Wilking.
"It just kills me that I did that," she added. "I don't ask for you to forgive me, and I don't know if I can ever forgive myself."
Turning to the gallery, Szynskie told the victims present, "I'm so sorry to you and your families," through tears.
"I'll give you everything to pay it back, because I owe this community that. It's a good community," Szynskie added.
Before sentencing Szynskie, Wilking outlined the aggravating factors in the case, including the number of victims and their statements.
Wilking also described a common theme among the numerous victim impact statements she had received.
"These victims and their families are hard-working people who saved money and made arrangements so they could pay for the burials of their loved ones," Wilking told Szynskie. "That is a sacred thing that a family undertakes."
"Ma'am, you violated that very sacred space for these families and this community," Wilking added.
Wilking emphasized that Szynskie didn't steal brass memorial vases on just one occasion or from just one place.
"You took them to junk them as scrap metal, and you received payment for that," Wilking said.
Szynskie received about $2,900 for the stolen vases.