Two suspects headed to prison for local property crime spree
Two suspects involved in multiple local vehicle break-ins and home burglaries were sentenced to prison earlier this month.
According to Crook County District Attorney Wade Whiting, 21-year-old Prineville woman Alysa Kay Bennight was sentenced to four years in prison on July 19 after entering guilty pleas to numerous counts of burglary, theft and drug charges. He explained that Bennight had no prior criminal history, but due to the sheer volume of criminal episodes, number of victims and damages caused, Bennight was given a lengthy prison sentence for her crimes.
Martin Todd Hollowell, a 54-year-old Bend resident, was sentenced to serve 120 months in the Oregon Department of Corrections during a court hearing on July 13. Due to a Crook County deputy district attorney being a witness in the case, Steve Leriche, Jefferson County District Attorney, agreed to handle the prosecution.
Hollowell, who had similar charges pending in Jefferson County, entered guilty pleas to numerous counts of theft, criminal mischief and identity theft. His extensive criminal history dates back to 1991, Whiting said, with at least 50 convictions for mostly drug and property crimes. He has previously been sent to prison four times out of Deschutes County.
Bennight and Hollowell were both involved in a surge of property-related crimes that began in the fall of 2017. With help from the public giving eyewitness descriptions and video surveillance footage obtained, officers were able to identify and arrest Bennight for multiple home burglaries and Hollowell for numerous car break-ins.
During the span of several months, Bennight broke into several homes and stole loose change, jewelry, firearms, small electronics, prescription pills, collector items and other items easy to grab to place into her backpack, Whiting stated.
Some of the victims were able to give law enforcement detailed descriptions of the jewelry that was stolen. Based on these descriptions, officers were able to track down and recover several pieces of stolen jewelry that had been pawned off.
The information obtained led the police to suspect Bennight. When she was finally arrested, her backpack contained multiple items that had been reported stolen in the string of home burglaries. When interviewed by police, Bennight admitted breaking into multiple homes and stealing.
Hollowell, Whiting said, drove around town locating unattended vehicles in public places. He smashed car windows and stole valuable contents from inside the vehicles. Items stolen from these vehicles included debit cards, which Hollowell then used to withdraw significant amounts of money at ATMs. Eyewitness descriptions of the suspect and video surveillance footage from several local business lead to the identification and arrest of Hollowell within a few days. Hollowell was indicted on 23 counts of property related crimes.
"While these crimes took place at roughly the same period of time, there is no evidence the defendants knew each other or were coordinating their efforts," Whiting said.
Both cases called into question whether or not Measure 57, which imposes a mandatory minimum sentence for repeat property crimes, was applicable. Ordinarily, the nature of both suspects' offenses would qualify, but passage of House Bill 3078 during the 2017 legislative session limits the amount of prison time defendants such as Bennight and Hollowell would serve for their repeated criminal conduct.
"Many district attorney offices throughout the state took the position that HB 3078 was unconstitutional because the legislature bypassed the will of the voters and the Oregon State Constitution," Whiting said. "Jefferson and Crook County both filed motions with the court challenging the constitutionality of HB 3078 and requested the court sentence qualifying defendants under Measure 57 with much larger mandatory minimum prison sentences for repeat property offenders."
Crook County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Ahern reviewed the legal briefs, heard oral arguments and ruled the legislature did not pass the law with the supermajority required to overturn the will of the people, Whiting stated, and he deemed HB 3078 unconstitutional.
"Numerous other circuit courts throughout the State of Oregon have made similar rulings invalidating HB 3078," he added. "After this ruling, Hollowell was sentenced with Measure 57 in effect and ordered to serve 120 months in the Department of Corrections. Under the law deemed unconstitutional, Hollowell would have received a fraction of the prison time he was ultimately ordered to serve.
"The Crook County District Attorney's Office strongly believes in the promotion of public safety and will continue to advocate and fight for laws that keep our communities safe."