By David Pendered
The case of the stolen statue of Brer Rabbit took a grave turn this morning when the sheriff threw the book at four teenaged men charged with its abduction and dismemberment.
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills lived up to his promise to deal severely with suspects if the statue were damaged. That’s because Brer Rabbit is as much an icon in Eatonton, where author Joel Chandler Harris was born and the statue stolen, as he is in Harris’ adopted hometown of Atlanta.
Sills charged each man with a count of felony theft by taking. The penalty is prison “for not less than one nor more than 10 years,” according to state law. One Savannah lawyer has blogged that a conviction of felony theft “virtually ruins a person’s chances of ever getting meaningful employment.”
No motive was released. The statue was recovered last week in a wooded area off Ga. 16, west of Eatonton.
Sills released a sparse statement minutes before noon today, following the suspects’ booking into jail:
“Each individual was charged and booked into the Putnam County Jail on one count of felony theft by taking,” says the statement, which then provides the bond amounts paid by the suspects. It continues:
“The case will now be forwarded to the Superior Court of Putnam County and to the Oculgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office for further action.”
The charges could be lessened by the prosecutor’s office. The judge also has some leeway in sentencing on felonious theft by taking – “or, in the discretion of the trial judge, as for a misdemeanor.” The penalty for a misdemeanor is up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Sills had vowed that he wasn’t fooling around with the case of the missing statue. It was pried loose from a pedestal on Aug. 8 in front of the Uncle Remus Museum in downtown Eatonton.
Damage included a ear being broken off, and recovered, and a smoking pipe snapped off – and apparently not recovered.
Here’s what the sheriff said at the start of the rabbit hunt:
“If it is some sort of prank borrowed for rush week and they call me and say, ‘Brer Rabbit is at X,’ I’ll get Brother Rabbit and not worry anymore,” Sills said.
“But if he truly has come to his demise, if he’s been cut up or torn up, God have mercy on their souls,” Sills said. “I can’t think of anything in this community that was more beloved than that statue.”
Here are the names of the four suspects:
- Shaun Michael Bachan,19 of Eatonton; released on $1,000 cash bond;
- Adam Bernard Beckstine, 19, of Eatonton; released on $2,000 property bond;
- Austin Clark Coleman, age 19 of Eatonton; released on $2,000 property bond;
- Caleb Lawrence Reaves, 18 of Social Circle; released on $2,000 property bond.