An 82-year-old recipe columnist for the South Whidbey Record tricked a burglar into incriminating himself last year.
The burglar, Freeland resident David De Spain, was sentenced to an exceptional term of more than nine years in prison Friday morning during a hearing in Island County Superior Court.
It was a predictable ending to an unusual case.
“It was one of the most bizarre adventures of my entire life,” Margaret Faltys said in a phone interview Friday morning.
Faltys writes the “Whidbey Recipes” column in the South Whidbey Record under her maiden name, Margaret Walton.
Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Eric Ohme laid out the story of the crime in court Friday.
Last summer, the widow, who was then 81 years old, hired a landscaper to trim a hedge at her Clinton home, and the man brought De Spain to help. Unknown to her, De Spain had a lengthy criminal history.
De Spain noticed that she had a large collection of fine wood in her garage. He talked with her about the collection and said he was a woodworker; she gave him the valuable wood as a gift.
About a month later, Faltys discovered that her jewelry case and a handgun were missing. She called the cops and a deputy came to investigate.
Faltys then called the 51-year-old De Spain and left a voicemail claiming that she had surveillance cameras in her home. She said she had proof he had stolen her jewelry, but said she wouldn’t call the police if he returned it.
De Spain called her back, apologized and said he would return the jewelry. He arrived the next day and handed her the jewelry bag, but all the high-value jewelry was gone. So she left another voicemail.
He came back the next day and promised to get the rest of her jewelry back, but never did. He even showed her how he broke into her house by slipping the lock on a door.
Ohme said Faltys’ ruse was key in convicting De Spain.
“That showed a lot of guts on Ms. Faltys’ part,” he said.
De Spain was arrested but didn’t confess to police. Instead, he went on trial last month and was convicted of residential burglary and theft in the second.
Faltys said the most ridiculous part of the trial was that De Spain and his fiancée took the stand and implied that she was scorned because he had resisted her advances. They claimed she gave him a long, close hug when he came to her house to ask her why she was falsely accusing him.
“We are calling it the ‘big hug defense,’ ” she said, referring to her friends.
She said she audibly snorted in the court when he made the claim.
“It was so weird,” she said. “If it hadn’t been so bizarre I would have burst out laughing.”
What wasn’t funny, she said, is that she lost a collection of family heirlooms. She had a garnet ring that her grandfather, a policeman in Canada, won during a gold-rush era poker game in Victoria, B.C. She had planned to pass it down to a granddaughter whose birthstone is garnet.
She also lost pieces her late husband had made for her.
“They can’t be replaced,” she said.
Ohme asked Judge Alan Hancock to sentence De Spain to an exceptional sentence beyond the standard range. Such sentences are only allowed if there are aggravating circumstances.
In this case, the jury found that Faltys was “especially vulnerable or incapable of resistance.” In addition, De Spain’s criminal history was so long that the standard sentencing range couldn’t take into account his history and the current crimes.
Both Ohme and Hancock said that De Spain’s criminal history was one of the longest, if not the longest, either of them had ever seen. Ohme said many of the convictions involved the theft of firearms.
In Faltys’ case, Ohme said he wasn’t able to prove that De Spain stole her gun because of timing issues.
Neither De Spain nor his attorney argued against the lengthy sentence. De Spain apologized for his actions and said he was ashamed. He said he hopes he doesn’t die in prison because he won’t let his family visit him there and he wants to see them again someday.
His attorney, Andrew Rice, said his client has a drug problem and hopes to get help in prison.
Hancock agreed with the recommendation and sentenced him to 113 months in prison.
Hancock criticized De Spain for lying on the stand and said that he “is essentially a career criminal.”
He said he hopes Faltys, who couldn’t be at the hearing, will feel some sense of justice from the lengthy sentence.
“I hope this will help her to move forward with her life,” he said.