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Western Auto and GCI burglar sentenced

Derik Wythe said drug habit led to crime spree

Posted: June 7, 2011 - 9:14pm  |  Updated: June 7, 2011 - 9:33pm
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Derik Wythe    Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Derik Wythe

The 27-year-old Juneau man convicted of burglaries at GCI and Western Auto was sentenced in Juneau Superior Court last week to spend 22 months in prison.

Two different Derik Wythes came before Judge Patricia Collins; the Derik Wythe who was addicted to oxycodone and was captured hiding among a bed of weapons inside Western Auto on Jan. 25, and the Wythe depicted as caring in a bevy of support letters from friends and family in the courtroom.

Defense attorney Kevin Higgins defended the Wythe that slept inside GCI during a crime and, as he detoxed in prison, began to emerge from a drug-induced crime cocoon into a fluttering sparkle of humanity.

“We are not disputing that Mr. Wythe has an incredible substance abuse addiction that has led to where he is today,” Higgins said. “Not surprisingly, my recommendation is different from the prosecution’s.”

Higgins asked for 36 months in prison, with 18 suspended and five years probation.

Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp gave the state’s recommendation for two years with six months suspended on both cases, for a composite of four years with one suspended, and 10 years probation. The state also wanted restitution for the expense of the SWAT unit that was called to Western Auto after Wythe told law enforcement officials another person was in the store. Collins denied that request, but did grant restitution of $30,031 to GCI. She also added 10 years of probation to Wythe’s prison sentence, although that amount can be cut in half if Wythe makes full restitution. Wythe must also have substance abuse evaluation while incarcerated and upon release and follow any treatment recommendations.

“Looking at it from the perspective of GCI, GCI is out thousands of dollars,” Kemp said. “Its employees weren’t able to come to work… GCI itself had to expend monies, paying employees for the days they missed, something that was probably very gracious in the company.”

Kemp said GCI responded to this burglary by updating security protocols and procedures. Wythe had admitted to entering and remaining unlawfully at GCI on Dec. 24, 2010, with the intent to commit theft. A safe is still missing in that case, its whereabouts unknown, even by Wythe.

“In contrast to that you have the burglary at Western Auto,” Kemp said. “Where, from the state’s perspective, represented huge safety concerns for the community at large.”

Kemp said officers responding to the alarm Wythe tripped at Western Auto described him as appearing to be impaired by various drugs and stealing multiple weapons. Those weapons were shown to the court.

“He had at least three rifles within his immediate possession,” Kemp said. “Or at least sleeping on them. And nearby, within five feet, were three other handguns.”

Kemp stated that Wythe’s relatively youthful age of 27 contains a criminal history going back to juvenile theft and burglary charges in 2001. In 2009 Wythe was convicted of drunken driving both in Alaska and in Washington state. In 2010 he burglarized a storage unit, stealing and later pawning weapons. That case was dismissed as part of his sentencing agreement.

“One theme that has been central to Mr. Wythe or apparent from his total picture is drug use,” Kemp said. “Drug use and substance abuse. There are certainly things in his history that suggest drug use is his primary problem.”

Higgins said the goal for his client is rehabilitation.

“Mr. Wythe has never engaged in or completed any term of inpatient treatment, any term of residential substance abuse treatment, any term of intensive outpatient treatment,” Higgins said. “This is my way of saying that the goal of sentencing for a youthful offender, and first-time felony offender, by far should be the rehabilitation of that offender.”

Higgins agreed with the prosecution that the crimes were drug motivated.

“He is two different people from when I was trying to get him into court to when he had a little bit of time to realize the gravity of what he had done,” Higgins said. “I am not talking about the gravity of the crimes that were charged and uncharged, but the gravity that was exhibited in the letters submitted by his family.”

Higgins said it was important to see the support network Wythe has — a network that is not trying to protect him, but trying to save him.

“People that know anything about this case, who know anything about Mr. Wythe, who know anything about the family that he was raised in,” Higgins said. “These people were willing to turn in their own son, file police reports and do things that most parents would go to great lengths to prevent from happening.”

Collins cited that caring family as a factor in her sentencing determination.

“One thing you have that many people are not lucky to have when they come before the court is this obviously caring, supportive family that actually made very significant efforts, prior to and at the same time these efforts were occurring, to try and get you some help,” she said. “They made clear in their letters they are willing to provide support if you can stay clean.”

Higgins said Wythe was out of control, could not get in control, and his family took the steps that they knew how to get him help. Higgins stated that it was the same family that had been there through the sentencing and will be waiting for him when he gets out.

Higgins stated that Wythe has been spending all his time in Lemon Creek Correctional Center filling out paperwork and taking assessments seeking treatment programs. Higgins said that although some of that was because he was in trouble, “it was mostly due to the fact that he has never had the opportunity to hit the pause button like incarceration has had on him.”

Collins asked Wythe for comment before sentencing and he apologized to Western Auto, GCI, and family.

“I have severely affected your businesses, my family and the community of Juneau,” Wythe said. “I consider myself lucky to have been arrested in a condition while spiraling out of control. I am not trying to make myself the victim. I know that if I were not on drugs, in my heart, that I would not have committed these crimes.”

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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