A house painter who admitted to stealing guns from a mid-valley client is getting a chance at rehabilitation, but that opportunity is going to come while he's behind bars.
At sentencing April 4 in Blaine County 5th District Court, Matthew Neal Robertson, 28, was sentenced to six years in prison for grand theft. However, Judge Robert J. Elgee suspended the prison sentence and instead sentenced Robertson to the Idaho Department of Correction "rider" program.
The rider program involves rehabilitation while incarcerated, usually at the North Idaho Correctional Facility in Cottonwood. Elgee explained that the term can be for up to a year, but can be less than that at the discretion of the Department of Correction.
Elgee rejected a defense plea for a withheld judgment and probation, saying that he couldn't ignore Robertson's prior criminal history.
"This is the third theft allegation—that is the overriding factor here," Elgee said. "I can't leave your prior record. I can't put that out of my head and put you on probation."
Robertson pleaded guilty in February to a single count of grand theft, a felony. He was originally charged with four counts of grand theft for stealing four handguns in 2010 from the mid-valley home of Kay Atkinson, the mother of William Atkinson, who owned the guns.
Both Kay and William Atkinson provided victims' statements at Monday's hearing.
"I hired Matt at his mother's request to paint my home while I was away on vacation," said Kay Atkinson. "He was out of work and I offered him a job. He took it upon himself to rifle through my things. I just felt totally violated."
William Atkinson said one of the guns will likely never be recovered, but it was a weapon with value beyond its cost because it was given to him by his father.
"It had sentimental value," he said.
Hailey attorney Cheri Hicks, who was appointed public defender for Robertson, told Elgee that her client suffers from a mental disability that "affects his ability to understand what's going on."
"At the time of this crime, Mr. Robertson was in a very bad place," Hicks said. "He did have mental disabilities that affected his decision to commit this crime."
Since then, Hicks said, Robertson has received professional help and is working hard to set his life on a better course.
"He's very much taken care of his mental condition," Hicks said. "He's doing this on his own. He doesn't need to be put in a facility to do this."
Robertson testified that the situation "motivated me to get my life together."
"I know it hasn't just affected me," Robertson said. "It's affected everybody."
Turning toward the Atkinsons, Robertson said, "I would like to apologize to you. You can take that with a grain of salt if you like, but I am sorry."
Terry Smith: email@example.com