An island couple is asking a judge to go easy on their neighbor who pled no contest last week to burglarizing their island home and stealing an estimated $9,000 worth of jewelry, fine cutlery and cash.
In letter read aloud in Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Cox’s courtroom, the couple requested leniency in the sentencing of 33-year-old Christopher Lockwood, who robbed their home while they were out of town last summer.
“This whole situation is nothing short of tragic to say the least,” the letter says. “We have lived as neighbors to the Lockwoods for nine years. Christopher has done periodic work for us. We have been guests in the Lockwoods’ house. We consider them as friends.”
The couple was not present at the plea hearing, but asked the assistant state attorney to share their correspondence with the court. The letter asks the judge to withhold adjudication pending Lockwood’s compliance with a reduced sentence.
Withholding adjudication would prevent Lockwood, who has been charged with 11 felonies, from becoming a convicted felon.
The prosecution recommended last week that Lockwood spend one year in county jail, followed by two years of drug offender probation. The defendant would be required to pay restitution to the victims immediately and the issue of adjudication would be left to the discretion of the judge.
The standard minimum sentence for Lockwood’s crimes is just over 3.5 years in prison.
The more lenient plea bargain was offered at the suggestion of the victims, said assistant state attorney Brian Workman at the hearing.
In the letter to the court the couple explained they believed Lockwood will have more opportunities to improve his life without a felony conviction. They told the judge they recently learned Lockwood struggles with addiction. His punishment should focus on rehabilitation, they said.
“We don’t know why this tragic event occurred,” they wrote in the letter. “We surely wish the clock could be reset.”
The couple’s home in the Island Club subdivision in Indian River Shores was burglarized while they were out of town for a month over the summer.
Upon their return they noticed French doors in the back of their three-bedroom residence were left unlocked and a jewelry box in the closet had been opened, a warrant for Lockwood’s arrest states.
The couple left a key to their house with a neighbor who was also Lockwood’s girlfriend. She was watching the residence for the family, cleaning the house and checking the mail.
Initially, it didn’t appear anything was missing, but weeks later while preparing to host a dinner party, they realized their sterling silver flatware was gone, the warrant notes. The couple would eventually discover two diamond rings, an antique gold charm bracelet and $1,000 in cash had also been taken.
A sheriff’s deputy found items matching the descriptions of what was stolen in a pawnshop database. A manager at Warrior Pawn in Sebastian told police Lockwood claimed he inherited the items.
Other goods were sold to a second-hand dealer, Square Deal Gold Buyers, in Melbourne. In both instances, Lockwood signed paperwork indicating the items he was selling were not stolen. Documents show he received nearly $1,500 for the goods.
Lockwood pled no contest to 11 felonies last week, including one count of burglary, five counts of giving false information to a pawnbroker and five counts of dealing in stolen property. He did not admit guilt, but told the judge he agreed to the plea because it was in his best interest.
His lawyer, James Long, did not dispute any facts presented in the police report. His parents, present at the hearing, declined to comment after.
The judge Wednesday hesitated to accept the prosecution’s lenient offer, noting Lockwood pled no contest to petty theft in the past. He stole a pellet gun from Walmart in 2014, Cox told the attorneys present.
This wasn’t a fluke, where he got hooked on drugs and made one bad choice. “He has a propensity to steal,” she said. “I just want to make sure [the victims] understand.”
Cox said she would accept the plea on the condition that the couple appears at a February sentencing and acknowledge they understand Lockwood’s criminal past.
Stealing from one’s neighbor is very bothersome, Cox said. “But, if the victims think it is forgivable and that he doesn’t need to be punished, that’s their choice.”