A Whitley County man, who is a twice convicted felon and has damaged not one but two houses of worship, was one of 352 state prisoners, whose sentences were commuted Friday by Gov. Andy Beshear due to COVID-19 concerns.
Suffice it to say that the prosecutor and the arresting officer in the most recent case were not thrilled with the governor’s decision.
Jerry Holt, 35, is a state inmate, who is serving his seven-year prison sentence in the Whitley County Detention Center for third-degree burglary, first-degree criminal mischief, resisting arrest and institutional vandalism in connection with a Jan. 27 incident at Mulberry Community Church.
“This isn’t something we take lightly but we know that this virus can get in these facilities,” Beshear said in a news release. “And we’re taking similar actions that we see governors all over the United States doing.”
According to the release, 339 of those commuted were state inmates serving their sentences in local jails, who have medical conditions that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified as making them more vulnerable to COVID-19, and 13 of those commuted were state inmates in both jails and state prisons who are over age 65, another risk factor identified by the CDC.
All of those who were commuted were serving sentences for non-violent, non-sexual offenses and had five years or fewer remaining on their sentences, according to the release.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie Bowling said that had he known ahead of time that the governor was considering commuting Holt’s sentence, then he would have “heavily objected.”
“I was disappointed to see his sentence commuted because it was his second offense desecrating a house of worship. He caused upwards of $20,000 in property damage intentionally ripping up a toilet, ruining the floors, bookshelves and all the property. It was just totally destroyed for no reason,” Bowling said.
“He destroyed a house of worship and he is a persistent felony offender as well. Just to be commuted, it was disappointing.”
Holt was ordered to pay $500 restitution in the case, which represents the church’s insurance deductible during his Aug. 19, 2019, sentencing hearing.
Bowling explained that the effect of the commutation is that the service of Holt’s sentence is over.
“He basically got misdemeanor quality time for his second felony offense that just flies a foul of the statutes and the court system,” Bowling said.
Bowling added that Holt had upwards of five years remaining on his sentence.
“He didn’t even fall under the announced guidelines. It was disappointing to see that,” he noted.
In an April 25 post on his personal Facebook page that starts out Dear Andy Beshear, Whitley County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Lawson, who was the arresting officer, notes that he has never been more disappointed and hurt in an elected official.
“I looked members of both churches in the eye and told them to be patient. He was caught in the act. ‘The system worked.’ Well, you proved me wrong. You really proved me wrong,” Lawson wrote.
Holt was arrested about 2:38 a.m. on Jan. 27, 2019, inside the church.
When police got to the church, they could hear someone inside but found the front door locked.
A standoff then ensued with the man inside claiming that he had a knife and had been stabbed, one arrest citation stated.
Police tried multiple times to get into the church without causing further damage, but were unsuccessful, and could see water coming from the subfloor under the church.
“During the standoff, the above defendant could be heard beating on the walls, breaking things, dragging things and yelling,” Lawson wrote on Holt’s arrest citation.
After police got inside, they observed that a toilet, wall cabinets, a metal filing cabinet, rugs, flowers, bank papers, flower stands, doors and the front door header had all been destroyed. Water was also running out of a busted pipe and flooding the church, a citation stated.
Holt told police that he had been chased and went to the church for safety. He also claimed that he had been stabbed, and then he claimed to have been shot.
Later on, Holt was taken to the hospital and all these claims were proven false by medical staff, Lawson wrote on a citation.
Holt didn’t tell police why he destroyed the restroom.
At the time Holt burglarized the Mulberry church, he was on parole for vandalizing another church.
Holt was indicted on Aug. 17, 2015, for third-degree burglary and theft under $500 in connection with the July 6, 2015, break-in of Brush Arbor Church.
On May 2, 2016, Holt pleaded guilty to the two charges and received a total sentence of five years in prison that was probated for a period of five years after Holt served the first six months behind bars, according to court records.
Holt was ordered to pay $898 restitution to the Brush Arbor Church in that case.