By Tim Eberly
A Havre man already serving 11 years for forgery was sentenced Wednesday afternoon to another 11 years in state prison.
A state District Court jury found Tim Hall, 32, guilty of felony and misdemeanor theft on Nov. 14. Judge John Warner sentenced Hall on Wednesday to six years for the felony theft charge and added another five after designating Hall a persistent felony offender. He'll begin serving the new sentence after completing his current sentence.
"You've had a hard life," Warner said to Hall before he handed down the sentence. "There's no doubt about that, and yet the choices that you've made are your choices. ...I must consider the future, and that is that someday you will be on the streets. I also consider that fact that, while (his crimes) were reprehensible, (they were) also nonviolent."
The November conviction stems from a Jan. 12 theft at R&R Studio of Havre, in which $27,000 of equipment was stolen. Rick Ervin, the owner of the photography studio, met Hall in the summer of 2000, when he paid Hall for several hours work to help him move equipment to the store's new location in the 700 block of First Street.
"If the sheriff's department had not done the good job they did, we would be out of business," Ervin said today.
Among other things, a laptop computer, photography equipment, several cameras, film, a portable compact disc player and cash were stolen from the store. While serving Hall a warrant for the forgery charge, sheriff's deputies discovered the stolen merchandise. His jury trial lasted two days.
During Wednesday's sentencing hearing, defense attorney Jeremy Yellin attempted to portray his client as a victim of his environment. Hall's mother died of lung cancer in 1984, Yellin said, when his client was 15. Though he never knew him, Hall's father was "an alcoholic, a pimp and a professional gambler," Yellin said. Hall also spent the majority of his teenage years in group homes.
Yellin said his client has a gambling problem and a "drug-induced state that results in criminal action."
Yellin asked for Hall's sentence to run concurrently with last summer's sentence for forgery. He also pleaded with Warner not to classify Hall as a persistent felony offender.
Hall, who moved to Havre in 1995, chose to make a brief statement to the court. When he was released from prison in 1999 for a previous conviction, Hall said, he found a job at a Havre gas station and convenience store. In the two years he spent in Havre before his conviction last summer, Hall said, he earned a high school equivalency diploma.
Then he broke a foot and doctors placed him on painkillers, he said.
"It destroyed me. I lost my perspective. I worked real hard. But I did mess up," said Hall.
Probation officer Steve Watson recommended Hall be sentenced to 25 years in prison based on a presentence report he had prepared on the defendant.
Yellin found several errors in the section of the report listing Hall's criminal history. He grilled Watson about his training, education and his grade point average from Montana State University-Billings. Watson has been in the job for three months and had completed two presentence investigation reports.
"He's young and he's going to learn," Hill County Attorney David Rice said of Watson's performance. "If you're going to recommend 36 years, the attorney's going to chew on him a little bit."
Hall has a number of previous felony convictions, including convictions in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1996 for theft or burglary.
As two sheriff's deputies waited with the handcuffed Hall for the elevator after his court appearance, Hall said, "I don't feel the system was just. I pleaded not guilty to a charge I did not commit. This sentence will go to appeals. The taxpayer will have to house me for 11 years. Who's the real criminal now?"
When informed of Halls sentence, Ervin said the punishment fit the crime.
"I think that's just right for us around here," Ervin said. "We don't need him in this community."