Man sentenced to six years for Fairbanks cemetery vandalism

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The last of three men convicted of vandalizing the Birch Hill Cemetery and burglarizing homes last fall was sentenced to six years in prison.

''You have demonstrated your inability to live within the law,'' Superior Court Judge Ralph Beistline said in sentencing Ira Poe on Thursday. ''You committed the crimes, now it's time to deal with the consequences.''

Poe, 19, Garry Lawrence, 19, and Jerome Phillips, 21, were all arrested in connection with the Sept. 27 vandalism as well as a spree of home burglaries that took place between Sept. 20 and 25. Police discovered a videotape depicting the acts of vandalism -- as well as bizarre segments of the culprits' home life -- inside a stolen video camera during their investigation into the break-ins.

The three men were charged with second-degree criminal mischief and a number of counts of first-degree burglary and second-degree theft. In separate plea agreements, each pleaded no contest to a criminal mischief count and two counts each of second-degree theft.

Last month, Beistline sentenced Phillips to 4 1/2 years in prison and Lawrence to 6 1/2 years.

On Thursday prosecutor Dave Burglin asked that Poe receive the harshest sentence of the group.

''He appeared at times to be the leader of the group,'' he said.

The video tape showed Poe and Lawrence doing the majority of the damage to the cemetery.

Between them, the pair urinated on one grave and spit on another, threw and broke statues, hacked bouquets and a wooden cross with a machete, flipped crosses over and tried to uproot gravestones.

The cemetery portion of the tape was sandwiched between footage taken by Poe earlier and later that day in the trio's B Street apartment. Poe filmed himself wandering the residence and idly threatening the others with a butterfly knife, machete, shotgun and handgun, all the while muttering violent comments -- including a racial slur against blacks -- in a contrived, throaty growl.

Defender Geoffry Wildridge disputed Burglin's claim that the tape showed Poe to be the ringleader of the group. ''I didn't see him do any more property damage than Mr. Phillips did,'' he said.

Poe offered the court a brief apology. ''I want to tell everybody that I'm sorry,'' he said. ''I deeply regret what I did, and it's not just because I'm in jail.''

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