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Judge denies motion to deploy felon

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Donald Ashford
ALTON - A motion was filed July 5 in Oregon County Circuit Court by the U.S. Army National Guard regarding a Thayer man, Donald Ashford, who had been sentenced to 120 days "shock time" in the Missouri Department of Corrections following a conviction on a felony explosive and tampering charge.

The Army wanted the sentence overturned because Ashford is a member of the 1138 Engineer Sapper Unit of the Missouri National Guard and will soon be deployed to Iraq.

Ashford, 18, of Thayer and Michael Boddie, 19, of West Plains went on a vandalism spree in the city of Thayer in January.

Both men pled guilty to setting a fire at Cover Lumber Company that caused an estimated $40,000 in damages. The men were originally charged with vandalizing trains owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and vandalizing several privately owned vehicles by spraying a fire extinguisher in or on them. Some of the lesser charges against the pair were dropped because of a plea agreement. The final charges they pled guilty to were knowingly burning or exploding a device and tampering with a motor vehicle in the first degree.

On July 18 the motion filed by the Army National Guard was heard by 37th District Presiding Judge David Evans. Ashford was represented by a public defender Donna Anthony.

Platoon Sgt. William Kollmar was present at the hearing. Victims of the crimes committed by Ashford were also invited to testify at the hearing. Curt Poulette, manager of Cover Lumber Company and Othal Barns whose private vehicle was damaged by Ashford and Boddie, testified against Ashford.

Kollmar said he was Ashford's commanding officer in Farmington where the 1138 is located. He told the court Ashford had been trained in the operation of weapons, general vehicle operations and detonating explosives.

Ashford was a member of the National Guard when he committed the crimes in Thayer.

"Our unit will be deployed July 19. We will go to Wisconsin for an additional 68 days before we head for Iraq," Sgt. Kollmar said. He said the way he understood it, if Pvt. Ashford was not released from prison before that time he would receive a dishonorable discharge from the Army.

"I am not one to give false praise. I have seen a change in Pvt. Ashford since joining our unit," he said.

Oregon County Prosecuting Attorney Fred O'Neill asked Sgt Kollmar if it was critical that Ashford go on the mission to Iraq and also if he did his 120 days in prison if he could join another unit.

The sergeant testified that it was not critical that he go, that the unit would survive without him but that he could not join another unit. He said again if he (Ashford) could not join the unit by July 19 he would be dishonorably discharged from the National Guard. "Our unit will be weaker without him," Kollmar said.

Poulette was next to testify. "This was nothing but an act of terrorism. Nobody benefited from this. We have laws, if you break the law you have to pay the price," he said.

Poulette said the only crime he could think of worse than the crime committed by Ashford was killing a person. "I have 25 employees and three owners to answer to. Yes we have insurance at our business but we don't have insurance that covers someone trying to burn one of our buildings down. It cost us $40,000. I was afraid they were going to come back and do something else," Poulette said.

Poulette said he feels like Ashford owes for what he did. "Thank goodness the city and county law enforcement officers got the terrorism stopped," he said.

"I myself am a veteran of the U.S. Army. I am astonished and appalled at the length the National Guard has gone to after this man committed 24 crimes, 19 of them felonies," Barnes told the court.

"His actions are a disgrace to the U.S. Army," Barnes said. He also told the court he thought the crimes committed by Ashford were terrorism and he did not think he should be allowed to hide behind the skirts of the Missouri National Guard.

Anthony argued that the men did not consider the consequences of their actions. "They thought of it as pranks. I have seen a change in the young man. At first he thought his shock time was the easy way out of being deployed to Iraq. Now after spending time with his unit he wants to serve his country," Anthony said.

"I am asking the court that he be allowed to serve his country. That he be allowed to go with his unit so he can pay his restitution," the public defender said.

Anthony said he (Ashford) would spend the rest of his life as a convicted felon. "If he has to add a dishonorable discharge to that it will always reflect on his character. I believe he will come back from Iraq a better person." she said.

O'Neill did not agree. "Punishment of the crimes committed is what we need to look at here. The National Guard is a whole new issue," the prosecutor said.

Judge Evans deliberated the issue about 30 minutes.

"I injured myself in high school and never had the opportunity to serve my country. I have great respect for those in the military that put their lives on the line," he said.

The judge commented that today he had witnessed one of the things that makes our country great, the court system. "We have heard two well bodied, well spoken attorneys. It is a great system of government when individuals can come forward and express their concerns as those testifying did here today. This has been a great honor," Judge Evans said.

The judge said when such good arguments are made there is a great deal to weigh and judge.

"Mr. Ashford committed serious crimes and made serious mistakes. He has not served his time. The motion is overruled," the judge said.

Ashford will remain in the Missouri Department of Corrections at Farmington until he completes his sentence. He then will be placed on five years probation and have to pay restitution to the victims of his crimes.


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