ALTON -- Donald Ashford was in Oregon County Circuit Court Oct. 15 to appear before Judge David Evans. He was there to hear Judge Evans ruling regarding a request from the Missouri Department of Correction (MDC) asking that he be released on probation.
Ashford was sentenced to serve 11 years in the Missouri Department of Correction by Evans after he and another man, Michael Boddie, went on a vandalism spree in the city in January causing thousands of dollars in damages to private vehicles, Burlington Northern railroad cars, Cover Lumber Company and the city of Thayer. He was charged with felony explosive and tampering charges.
Ashford was in court last on July 5 when the U.S. Army National Guard filed a motion with the court requesting the prison sentence be overturned because Ashford was a member of the 1138 Engineering Sapper Unit of the Missouri National Guard and would soon be deployed to Iraq.
Judge Evans denied the motion by the Army and Ashford was sent back to the MDC.
Ashford was represented by public defender Andy Zleit.
"We are here today to determine if Mr. Ashford should be released on probation or continue his prison time," the judge said. Evans went on to say that since the MDC made the request, state law requires a hearing before a judge.
Evans then asked Oregon County Prosecuting Attorney Fred O'Neill what he thought regarding the request of the MDC.
"Personally, I don't think what he did is worth 11 years in prison. The final decision will be that of yours, Judge Evans. I think we should let Mr. Ashford tell his story," the prosecutor said.
"Since he has been in prison, he already has one bad conduct violation. When he was originally charged and you let him out for National Guard duty he consumed alcohol. He is still making bad judgements and if he is released the court needs to set some restrictions," O'Neill said.
The prosecutor said the one bad conduct violation against Ashford while he has been in prison was when he was accused of making four nooses and hanging them on African American inmates' bunks.
Ashford said, "We were all just sitting around and I told someone I knew how to make a noose and I showed them. From there, things just escalated," he said.
Zleit said he had a letter from MDC officials that said the noose incident had been a mistake and that Ashford had apologized to everyone involved in the incident. "The letter said Ashford took responsibility for the mistake and the violation," Zleit said.
"So you're saying you did not place four nooses on the bunks of four African American inmates?" the judge asked.
"Yes sir. I never saw four nooses. I didn't put them there," Ashford said.
"I don't understand why the MDC would want to release him. He admitted to them about the nooses," O'Neill said.
"My client has already made $5,000 in restitution to those he offended in this county. Just last week his mother received a call from the National Guard inquiring about Ashford's situation. He is not officially discharged from the Army," Zleit said.
This statement by the defendants attorney conflicts with what Platoon Sgt. William Kollmar said in the July court proceedings. "If Ashford cannot join the unit by July 19 he would be dishonorably discharged from the National Guard," Kollmar said.
Zliet said Ashford had great family support and is ready to start a new chapter in his life.
Judge Evans did not ponder the ruling long.
"I have to disagree with your attorney. This is my decision. You have a bad history; you have some bad charges against you. You have made some bad judgements and did some bad things," the judge said. "You messed up when I let you out to serve with the National Guard and then made another bad judgement since you have been in prison."
Evans said he didn't think Ashford had learned his lesson. "You are still showing bad judgement and are still making mistakes. The probation request is going to be denied. I am going to release you from the seven year sentence and sentence you to only four years in the MDC. You need to grow up and have respect for others and their property," Judge Evans said.
Deputies with the Oregon County Sheriff's Department then transferred Ashford back to the MDC.