Jolene J. Harrell took money from an elderly Lawrence couple because she was being pressured by her husband and wanted to provide for her children, her attorney says.
But Douglas County District Court Judge Jack Murphy ordered Harrell to serve six months in the Douglas County Jail for stealing nearly $110,000 from retired Judge Charles Rankin and his wife, Polly, between April 2003 and June 2004. She'll have to serve more time if she violates terms of a two-year probation.
"I just want to apologize to the court," a tearful Harrell said. "I would like to apologize to Polly and Charles."
Harrell, 45, had been hired to give the Rankins companionship and help keep their checkbook. She admitted taking more than $109,441 by using the couple's personal checks and taking their retirement and Medicaid payments.
Defense attorney Elbridge Griffy IV asked Murphy to grant probation or let her go to jail on weekends so she could keep a job and care for the three children who live with her.
The prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Rex Beasley, opposed the request.
"She stole money," he said. "She used it for her own purposes, and she ought to be punished for it."
Murphy said it was unfortunate Harrell would be away from her children but told her, "That's something that you'll have to live with."
He sentenced her to 12 months in jail for three misdemeanor counts of theft, but he gave her probation after six months. He ordered her to report to jail Saturday morning.
Griffy said Harrell was pressured to steal by her now-ex husband, Alann Austin, who reported her to police after the couple's divorce. Griffy said he'd seen a letter in which Austin admits he had a role in the thefts, and he questioned why Austin wasn't charged.
Austin, 46, attended the hearing. In an interview afterward, he said he wrote the letter but fabricated the story of his involvement because he felt guilty for turning Harrell in.
Murphy also sentenced Harrell to 60 months in prison for 23 counts of felony theft, but because she had no prior felony convictions, under state sentencing guidelines he had to order probation for those charges.