By C.V. Moore
In November 2011, heat pumps began to go missing at Baptist churches across the New Haven area of Fayette County.
Clifford E. Taylor, 38, of Danese was brought to trial last week for stealing those units, worth thousands of dollars each, and attempting to sell their copper parts for cash.
Taylor was charged with four counts of grand larceny, a felony offense. A jury convicted him of one count and acquitted him of another. They deadlocked on two more grand larceny charges, and a mistrial was declared in those instances.
Jeanette Baptist Church in Edmond, Graydon Baptist Church in Lansing, Big Sewell Baptist Church in Maywood, and Mill Creek Baptist Church in Victor were all affected by the thefts.
According to a police report, a West Virginia State Trooper out of Oak Hill, Cpl. J.S. Syner, was investigating the Graydon thefts last November. He spoke to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, which was working on several similar cases.
He learned Richard Marshall Peck was considered a suspect in those crimes. When Syner showed up at Peck’s house with a search warrant, he found Peck and Taylor tearing two heat pumps apart to get out the copper, according to a police report.
“The thieves only receive a few dollars for the salvaged scrap metal from these units, but are causing thousands of dollars in damage to the victims from whom they are stealing these units,” said Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler at the time of the arrests.
Peck, who pleaded guilty to the crimes, testified against Taylor at last week’s trial.
The expert witnesses included a forensic scientist who matches up cuts in metal with instruments used to do the cutting. Evidence introduced by the state included parts of the heat pumps, pieces of copper line, bolt cutters and salvage receipts.
The jury found Taylor guilty in the case of Big Sewell, not guilty in the case of Mill Creek Baptist, and could not reach a verdict in the other two.
Paul Syner is the pastor at Graydon Baptist Church, where four units were stolen.
“Of course it affected us in the fact that we didn’t have any heat or air conditioning for over two months, maybe three months,” he says.
After the crimes, “All of our people began to pray that we could get things straightened out,” says Syner.
The church had just recently installed a new, expensive heat pump when the thefts occurred. They are still paying off a loan from the bank for that unit, said the church treasurer, Paula Murdoch. Insurance claims totaling $18,000 have allowed the church to replace the stolen units.
“We’ve got a pretty strong church family,” says Syner. “It’s finally back together, all of it.”
Fayette County Assistant Prosecutor Brian Parsons said he will continue to pursue a conviction in the two cases in which the jury couldn’t decide.
“With the two matters that were hung, I’ve decided we’re going to dismiss those and investigate further to see if we can try them again with more evidence in the future,” he says.