The trial of Opal May, the woman charged with robbing her own jewelry store and causing the death of Theresa Burkart, concluded Wednesday in the New Grace County Courthouse.
In her closing statement Rachel Shorte, of Henley, Martin and Kelly, asserted that the prosecution was trying to trick the jury into seeing facts that were not there.
Ms. Shorte stated that the charge of insurance fraud was unfounded. There was no evidence to suggest that Ms. May had filed an insurance claim, as the robbery had just happened, but that the prosecution needed the jury to assume that was Ms. May’s intention in order to convict. The fact that Ms. May removed her own property from her own store was not in itself a crime and she could have returned the property to the premises or simply used the jewels as currency at a later date. Therefore, she did not take any steps necessary to be guilty of insurance fraud.
During the trial it was clear that Ms. May removed property from the store, called the police and reported a robbery and the property was recovered from her car in the parking lot maintained by the owners. On cross examination, Mr. Doyle May, co-owner of Krystal Karat and the spouse of the defendant, admitted that the car was in both of their names and he had a key. Ms. Shorte pointed out that at no point was the alleged stolen property out of the control of Ms. May’s co-owner.
In regard to the death of Theresa Burkart, the prosecution alleged that due to the nature of the underlying crime, the armed robbery of Krystal Karat, Ms. May should be convicted of the felony murder of Mr. Burkart.
Ms. Shorte took the time during her closing to explain just what the Felony Murder Statute (FMS) required: First the death must be a result of the felony, and in this instance must occur during the commission of the crime or while escaping, whether that death was intentional or accidental. Ms. Shorte said, “The purpose of the statute is simply. A person can not commit an inherently dangerous crime, one that is a threat to human life and then claim ‘I didn’t mean for anyone to die’ as a defense.”
“Hearing the requirements for felony murder one might think Ms. May is guilty. The statue clearly includes an accidental death and no one, not even the prosecution, is denying Ms. Burkart’s death was a tragic accident – while running from the police Ms. May ran into traffic causing the deceased to swerve,” said Ms. Shorte. She proceeded to remind the jury that even though a gun was used the only person involved in the alleged robbery and the only person present was Ms. May. “Whether or not Ms. Mays’ actions in her own store that day constitutes robbery is up to you, the jury, but I ask you to remember how it was committed. Ms. May was only a danger to the objects in her store. The alleged crime did not involve a threat to human life in its commission or by its nature.”
The jury was sequestered and after three days returned its verdict. Ms. May was found guilty on the charge of filing a false police report, discharging a weapon within town limits and involuntary manslaughter in the accidental death of Theresa Burkart (a lesser included offense of the felony murder charge). She was acquitted of the robbery and insurance fraud.
Although Ms. May will serve up to five years, protestors picketed the courthouse for two days. “This is a disgrace,” said one protestor, “Those poor children will have to grow up without their mother and all because this woman wanted to leave her husband and take it all. At least she’ll be serving time.”
During the protest eight people were arrested, but all were released without being charged.