SEBRING - Opinions differed Friday on whether a 46-year-old man should have received eight years in prison for being involved in a string of vandalism incidents that resulted in more than $50,000 in damage to more than 30 businesses throughout Highlands County.
But Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin said it was clear to him that Michael Brown, the defendant, deserved substantial prison time because of the extensiveness of the damage and because he facilitated crimes by two teenagers who shot out dozens of windows with BB and pellet guns.
Houchin said eight years was about the maximum he felt Brown could receive under a plea arrangement, considering that Brown himself did not shoot out any windows.
Brown, of 316 Baxter Ave., Sebring, Anthony Keen, 13, 5414 DeSoto Road, Sebring, and Cody Dayfert, 18, Zolfo Springs, were arrested in March after one or more individuals shot windows in businesses in Lake Placid, Sebring and Avon Park.
In Sebring, vandals targeted downtown businesses, as well as those on U.S. 27, including some at the Lakeshore Mall.
Records show that the suspects did not offer any reasons for the shootings. Brown had bought the BB gun for Keen, according to warrant affidavit.
Under the plea agreement carried out this week, Brown will serve the eight years and then be placed on probation for 10 years. He would also be expected to make restitution of $55,000.
If Brown violates probation, he could end up serving the rest of his life in prison, Houchin said.
That's because Brown was only sentenced on one of the 71 counts to which he plead guilty, Houchin said.
Lora Todd, who owns Dogtown USA and manages several other downtown businesses, said she believes that Brown deserved more time in prison. "I think what he did was abominable considering he was the adult."
Todd said she's not convinced that once he's on probation he will turn into a model citizen.
The vandalism caused nearly $583 damage to windows at her building and more than twice that to windows at Brenner Pottery, which she manages, she said. Because the windows were older at Brenner Pottery, it cost more to fix them, she said.
Some art also was damaged, she said.
Many businesses were faced with paying the full cost of repairs because insurance deductibles were above the dollar amount of the damage, she said.
"I don't think I or anyone else will receive a dime of the restitution," Todd said.
Like Todd, Linda Crowder, director of the Children's Museum of the Highlands, said she also doesn't expect to get restitution.
Crowder said she believes an 8-year sentence for the crime is a severe punishment. "Eight years is a lot for vandalism, but he did (or facilitated) a lot of damage," she said.
She said she hopes that the teenagers involved will be deterred from committing more crimes by seeing Brown go to prison.
But Michael Liburdi, office manager for American Clown School and Museum in Lake Placid, said he personally believes eight years is too long.
"That's a lot for shooting BBs at widows," he said. "You hear about people getting off with committing worse crimes for less."
Ireland Sanders, the owner of Sanders Real Estate in Lake Placid, which experienced about $400 in damage, agreed.
"I think its too harsh of a sentence," he said, considering the crime committed and that the windows were shot out with BBs or pellets, rather than bullets.