Third defendant in Paxton case pleads to misdemeanor

PAXTON — Because of a lack of evidence linking a Danville man to burglaries at a Paxton jewelry and coin shop, the Ford County's prosecutor offered a plea deal Monday that resulted in a felony charge being dropped in return for the man's pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.

Ryan M. Banks, 29, was the last of three Danville men to accept a plea offer from State's Attorney Matt Fitton in connection with the burglaries at Hewerdine's Coin & Jewelry. He was the only one not convicted of a felony.

Banks pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft in Ford County Circuit Court and was sentenced to 18 months of probation and ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution to the shop's owner, Richard Hewerdine. In return for his plea, a more serious charge of burglary, a Class 3 felony, was dismissed.

Fitton said he offered the plea deal because there were no written statements to police, video footage or any other evidence linking Banks to either of the two burglaries.

"The (police) reports clearly show there was nothing (stolen from the shop) ever recovered from my client," said Banks' private attorney, Donald Parkinson of Urbana. "He didn't have any of the property whatsoever, and he freely allowed the police to search his house when they showed up unannounced."

Parkinson added that Banks was working in Danville at the time of the first burglary last September. His involvement in the second burglary in January was limited to driving his two co-defendants to Paxton, Parkinson said.

Contrary to statements made by Paxton Police Chief Bob Bane, Banks also never had been a customer of Hewerdine, Parkinson said, adding that Hewerdine did not keep any records showing otherwise.

The other defendants — Ryan P. McLaughlin and Brandon M. Enos, both 27 — each pleaded guilty earlier this summer to a felony, also through a negotiated plea agreement.

McLaughlin pleaded guilty to theft of over $500 and was sentenced to 18 months of probation and to pay $5,000 in restitution.

Enos pleaded guilty to possession of stolen property ($500 to $10,000) and received two years of probation and was ordered to pay back $7,000.

Banks rejected an initial plea offer from Fitton earlier this month and was scheduled for trial this week. A plea agreement could not initially be reached because Banks was not interested in pleading guilty to Class 3 felony theft, and there was disagreement over restitution, Parkinson told Ford County Judge Steve Pacey.

Besides receiving probation, Banks was ordered to complete cognitive-thinking counseling or a similar course. He was also ordered to have no contact with Hewerdine.

In 2001, Banks was convicted of burglary, a Class 2 felony, in Vermilion County and received three years of probation. He also pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis, a misdemeanor, in 2008 and received one year of probation.

The 78-year-old Hewerdine had estimated that $175,000 in jewelry and coins were stolen from his store during the burglaries, but Fitton offered plea deals that called for a far less amount of restitution because he could not prove the value of what was stolen. Fitton noted that none of Hewerdine's jewelry was appraised or inventoried, and only some was recovered.

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