Friday, November 14, 2008

Jury finds homeless man not guilty

Defendant was accused of a stealing mountain bike

Express Staff Writer

After deliberating for only one-half hour, a Blaine County jury Thursday afternoon found a homeless man not guilty of stealing a mountain bike in Ketchum last summer.

The verdict followed two days of testimony in Blaine County 5th District Court in a felony grand theft case against 46-year-old Craig S. Moeller, who lives in a makeshift A-frame shelter in Lion's Park in Hailey.

Moeller testified that he found the bike, partially disassembled and abandoned, learning against a dumpster in the alley behind The Gold Mine thrift store in Ketchum.

The bike, a 2007 Scott Ransom 30 model, was reportedly stolen from Sturtos Boards and Bikes in Ketchum on July 13. Moeller, who testified that he repaired the bike, was arrested after he was found riding it in Hailey the morning of July 16.

Moeller has remained free on $10,000 bond since July 30.

Bike owner Julian Tio, an employee at Sturtos, testified that the bike was worth $3,900 new. Now almost two years old and needing repairs, Tio said the bike is still worth at least $1,700.

"I think the speed of the jury's verdict indicates their assessment of the facts in the case," said Hailey attorney Kevin Cassidy, who was appointed Moeller's public defender. "I think the jury came to the right decision and I'm happy for Mr. Moeller."

The case went to the eight-women, four-man jury shortly before 1:30 p.m. Presiding Judge Robert J. Elgee advised the jury that it had the option of finding Moeller guilty of misdemeanor petit theft rather than grand theft, a crime punishable in Idaho by up to 14 years in prison.

Moeller has served prison time before. However, that fact was not made known to the jury.

According to Blaine County court records, Moeller was convicted in April 2004 of felony "battery on a correctional officer" and sentenced to five years in prison, with three of them to be served before parole eligibility. Idaho Department of Correction records state that he was released from prison on Oct. 26, 2007.

Moeller made no mention of his prison time when he testified at his grand theft trial Thursday morning. He said he has lived in Hailey for about eight years and gave his current address as Lion's Park.

"I've just bounced around all over," he said. "I've been homeless much of the time. I last worked in June and haven't been able to find stable work since."

Moeller said the A-frame shelter, that he constructed with poles and canvas, has a rug for a ground cover, a propane heater and a couple of lawn chairs for furniture. He has no electricity and cooks outside on an open fire.

He said he sometimes does "odd jobs" and receives charity food offerings but otherwise survives by "dumpster diving."

"Are you planning on spending the winter there?" Cassidy asked Moeller.

"I don't have a choice at this point," Moeller replied.

Moeller testified that he usually searches dumpsters for wood for his campfire, but occasionally finds useful items that have been discarded.

Moeller said he was dumpster diving on July 13 when he found the mountain bike leaning against a dumpster behind The Gold Mine.

"It looked like somebody threw it there," he said, adding that the bike was not in the donation drop off area behind The Gold Mine.

Moeller said the bike was missing its front wheel, seat and pedals, but he found the seat and front wheel inside the dumpster and another one nearby.

Moeller said he fastened the bike together using a twisted coat hanger, dragged it to a bus stop and caught a Mountain Rides Down Valley bus back to Hailey.

In closing arguments, Cassidy told the jury that Moeller had been consistent with his story since his arrest about where he got the bike.

"There's no reason to doubt that he got the bike at The Gold Mine," Cassidy said.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback alleged that Moeller stole the bike from where it was parked at Sturtos for repairs. Even if Moeller did find the bike behind The Gold Mine, Fredback alleged that Moeller should have known it was something of value.

"The defendant did not take any reasonable measure to return the property to the owner," Fredback said. "To me there's no way you could look at that bike and believe that it is trash. He saw this bike, he knew it was nicer than the bike he had, he wanted it, so he took it."

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