Woman Admits Selling Memorial Vases Stolen From Casper-Area Gravesites
A woman accused of stealing memorial vases from at least 98 gravesites in the Casper area pleaded guilty to a felony charge Thursday afternoon in Natrona County District Court.
As part of a plea deal, 51-year-old Janna L. Szynskie pleaded guilty to one count of wrongful taking or disposing of property. Since it was a 'cold' plea -- made without any offer by the state of a reduced sentence -- Szynskie could face the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine at sentencing.
The amount of restitution at issue is in excess of $40,000. Szynskie will be free to dispute that amount during her sentencing hearing.
Two additional counts filed against Szynskie were dismissed in exchange for her plea. Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen said in court Thursday the dismissed charges were simply alternate theories of the same crime.
Restitution will be a significant issue in the case, which is complicated by the number of victims and the similarity of the memorial vases taken from both Natrona Memorial Gardens and Hiland Cemetery.
Some of the vases were destroyed before authorities got involved. Szynskie turned a number of the vases over as scrap to Pacific Steel and Recycling, receiving $2,895.80 in exchange.
After Thursday's arraignment, Blonigen told K2 Radio it would be extraordinarily difficult to ensure the surviving vases are returned to their rightful owners, as they all look very similar. He called the case a "restitution nightmare."
"This is a very personal matter to many of these people," Blonigen said, adding that the case had both a property and an emotional component. He said many of the victims would call Szynskie's actions a "desecration."
Blonigen declined to comment on whether he will argue for a prison sentence during Szynskie's sentencing hearing, which will be held following completion of a presentence investigation.
In a printed statement, Blonigen's office asks any victims in the case to come forward and contact Rhonda Jones, of the Natrona County District Attorney's Office Victim Witness Unit, at 235-9388.
"We would like all victims to make contact with our office to assist them through the judicial process and assist with returning items or restitution," the statement reads.
Blonigen said a number of new victims have come forward since Memorial Day.
Charging papers note an employee of the Natrona Memorial Gardens estimated at least 250 of the brass flower vases were missing from headstones in the cemetery.
Investigators with the Natrona County Sheriff's Office estimate each vase is worth $400-$750, and placed the "conservative" value of items stolen and damaged at $39,200.