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Man sentenced to 2 years for stealing from Amherst County tornado victims
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Man sentenced to 2 years for stealing from Amherst County tornado victims

BEDFORD — A Ruckersville man convicted of stealing from an Amherst County family recovering from a tornado that hit their Elon home in April 2018 was sentenced Monday to two years in jail.

Joshua Hugh Woodward, 37, pleaded guilty Monday to one felony count of grand larceny before Bedford Circuit Judge James Updike.

He and co-defendant Stephen Brock Wells Jr., of Ruckersville, were arrested after an Elon resident noticed them putting grills, heaters, a television and other items onto a truck. The charges date to April 21, 2018, days after an EF3 tornado tore through Elon neighborhoods and destroyed a number of homes.

Amherst County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Clint Carwile has said Wells was volunteering in the area prior to the theft. Carwile said Wells was remorseful, unlike Woodward. Wells received a sentence of seven days in jail in May.

At Woodward’s arraignment hearing Monday, Carwile said Elon residents Gary and Leecy Fink, their neighbors and two Amherst County Sheriff’s deputies would have testified if the case had gone to trial. The Finks put everything salvageable from their previously destroyed home and RV into a pile and a neighbor spotted the two co-defendants putting items onto a truck, Carwile said.

Gary Fink was contacted and said he did not give authorization to Woodward and Wells to take those items, according to Carwile. The two deputies stopped the truck and spotted the items clearly identified as belonging to the Finks on the vehicle, Carwile said. A deputy who knew Gary Fink personally called him and was told the co-defendants were not given permission to enter the property, the prosecutor said.

Greg Smith, Woodward’s attorney, said his client previously was prepared to go to trial a month before the COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to jury trials across the area. Woodward feels the plea agreement he entered into Monday is in his best interests, Smith said.

Carwile said the Finks feel the plea agreement is fair and the defendant’s failure to appear for several court hearings contributed toward the sentence. Woodward did not speak further when given the opportunity in court Monday.

In addition to the two-year sentence, Updike ordered Woodward have two years of supervised probation upon his release and stay clear of any property owned by the Fink family. Two misdemeanor charges of damaging property and trespassing against Woodward were dropped.

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