Aurora, NE The young man who vandalized the Farmers Valley Cemetery was sentenced Friday morning in Hamilton County Court. But the way the judge's sentence was a little out of the ordinary.
Robert Kelly Jr. of Saronville was put in handcuffs after Judge Michael Owens sentenced him to 5 years of probation and 180 days in jail.
"I'm overjoyed! I can't believe he got what he was supposed to get, we didn't think he would," said Karen Carlson, one of the Caretakers for the Cemetery. "We wanted to see justice done, we saw the damage, we saw what he had done and the tears that had been shed over that cemetery."
Kelly will serve 60 days immediately, and then 30 days in jail in 2015, 2016 and 2017, each set beginning on the anniversary of when he broke the 44 headstones, August 19th.
His attorney, Dorothy Benton, asked the judge to not give him any jail time, saying he is remorseful and a Class 4 felony like Criminal Mischief on his record should be punishment enough. She said this charge will close a lot of doors for him.
Benton also pointed out that Kelly had no criminal history. 2 or 3 speeding tickets and a negligent driving ticket were the only things on his record.
He also owes $10,000 in restitution, paid at $200 per month. An estimate was made that states it will cost $28,500 to fully repair the stones.
Carlson said, "I think it's great, he'll be paying for a very long time so he'll be thinking about it for a very long time. Whenever you have to pay money, you have to think about those people and that's going to make him think about us."
The court said they can't ask Kelly to do the impossible. If he cannot get a job or has a job that doesn't pay him enough to make his payments, they will not punish him for not making payments.
Kelly's attorney said, when asking for no jail time, if he goes to jail he will lose his current job and won't be able to pay the restitution. She asked at the very least to delay jail time so he could talk to his employer. Judge Owens denied that request.
While the Cemetery Association was excited with the judge's decision for jail time, Kelly's family were both stunned and in tears when they learned that Robert would be leaving straight from court to begin serving the first 60 days of his 180 day sentence.
Robert sat with his head down picking at his fingernails before being called for sentencing. When he was sentenced, he remained somber.
Before the sentence Kelly stood up and apologized for what he had done and asked the judge for only probation.
Kelly's attorney refused to comment on the ruling.
Judge Owens said he has sentenced other people for similar crimes to simply probation. Prosecutor Sarah Carstensen said jail time was to send a message that this won't be tolerated.
The 5 year probation was the most Judge Owens could give for this crime.
Judge Owens told Kelly during sentencing, he's not stupid, but, "you're a kid, you did something really, really dumb." He also told Kelly, "You violated people both past and present."
The terms of Kelly's probation state that he cannot violate any laws, he must avoid all disreputable people and places, and he must maintain a full time job unless he goes to college, which he had to leave due to these charges. He must also allow his probation officer to visit him anytime, he cannot leave the state of Nebraska without permission, and may not move from his current residence in Clay County without his probation officer's or the court's approval. He may not associate with anyone else who is on probation or parole, he must abstain from alcohol and controlled substances, except for those prescribed by a doctor. Kelly is currently in counseling and taking medication for anger management and depression. He is subject to searches at he request of any officer or his probation officer, he must attend anger management and a victim impact accountability class. Finally, he must serve 200 hours of community service.
Now cemetery officials say they can move on.
"Hopefully this time next year, it'll look right, it'll look good, and we can be proud again," said Carlson.
They said this is the end of the ordeal, but the beginning of healing for everyone, including Kelly.