Two former Fayette sheriff's deputies get house arrest and probation in weapons-theft case

jkegley@herald-leader.comNovember 21, 2012 

Two former Fayette County sheriff's deputies will not face jail time after answering to charges that they stole confiscated weapons from the sheriff's office.

Former sergeants Chester "Merle" McDaniel and William Beers, who resigned from Fayette County sheriff's office after they were charged, were sentenced to house arrest and probation Wednesday.

The men entered Alford pleas to the theft charges Oct. 31, according to court documents. An Alford plea means a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence to convict him.

McDaniel was convicted of two felony counts of theft of a firearm and one count of first-degree official misconduct, a misdemeanor. Beers was convicted of attempted theft and official misconduct, both misdemeanors.

Both men face a year of probation. McDaniel will serve the first 120 days of the sentence under house arrest; Beers will serve 60 days.

The men were charged in May after investigators discovered that 14 weapons confiscated in domestic violence cases had not been booked into the sheriff's office's property locker. Instead, McDaniel and Beers had taken the guns as their own, the office charged.

McDaniel sold two of the guns at a pawn shop. After he was charged, he tried to buy them back, but one already had been sold.

Eddy Thompson, McDaniel's attorney, said Wednesday that McDaniel had not intended to steal the weapons. He had gotten two of the guns mixed up with his own guns and sold them by mistake, he said.

"He knows they shouldn't ever have gotten mixed up in the first place," Thompson said, adding that McDaniel had "beaten himself up" for violating the public's trust.

McDaniel chose to take a plea deal because a public trial would have brought family issues into the spotlight, Thompson said. He would not elaborate.

"I think that there were a whole lot of other factors that were in play when this event occurred," Thompson said. "He chose to enter a guilty plea by Alford because he didn't want to put his family through it."

Bryce Caldwell, attorney for Beers, noted that Beers did not sell any weapons. He returned all the guns when the investigation began.

"He had never intended to profit or benefit from this at all. There's no evidence of that. He never intended to sell these," Caldwell said.

However, Beers acknowledged he violated the rules and regulations of the sheriff's office by waiting to book the weapons, the attorney said.

Caldwell said he felt the outcome was a fair result. Beers was relieved that the matter is resolved, he said.

Prosecutors did not oppose probation and house arrest, Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said. He said he thought the biggest penalty to McDaniel and Beers was the blow to their reputations and the loss of their jobs.

"My reaction is that when your reputation is important to you, any kind of a criminal conviction, especially a felony conviction, is pretty devastating," Larson said. "That's unlike some of the repeat offenders that come in time after time with a charge, and they don't care."

As part of the plea deal, Beers' charges were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. McDaniel's charges remained felonies because he pawned some of the guns, Larson said.

Senior Status Judge Robert W. McGinnis, a retired circuit court judge, was appointed by the Kentucky Supreme Court to preside over the case. All Fayette County Circuit Court judges recused themselves because Beers and McDaniel worked as bailiffs as part of their employment with the sheriff's office.

Both men were ordered not to commit any new crimes or violate the terms of their probations, or they could serve the remainders of their sentences in jail.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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