Leniency plea postpones Espinoza sentence — (The Chicago Tribune)

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The Chicago Tribune

July 28, 2007

By DIANE KRIEGER SPIVAK Post-Tribune staff writer

VALPARAISO — Confusion over two granddaughters, a year apart, one of whom could suffer if her guardian grandmother was sent to jail, prompted Porter Superior Court Judge William Alexa to postpone sentencing Janie Lee Espinoza on Friday.

The Portage woman pleaded guilty in May to stealing more than $250,000 of her son Roy Buckley’s military life insurance money that should have gone to his daughter Alicia Buckley, now 10, when she turns 18. Roy Buckley was killed in Iraq in 2003.

Espinoza’s defense attorney Garry Weiss introduced information to the court that Espinoza has been guardian to another granddaughter Angelica Calvin, 11, the daughter of another son, since Calvin was a baby.

Angelica suffers from cerebral palsy, and would be negatively affected if Espinoza serves jail time, Weiss said.

“I’m not sure which of the two granddaughters we’re talking about,” Alexa said, adding that he would direct the probation department to investigate Espinoza’s guardianship.

“In cases involving theft of so much money I have not hesitated to impose jail time,” Alexa said. “But the probation office recommended no time at all. I do not believe I have enough information to go forward with the sentencing.”

Alexa set a new sentencing date of Aug. 17.

The probation department had said Espinoza had no prior criminal history and was unlikely to re-offend.

She pleaded guilty to one count of Class C felony theft, and one count of Class B felony welfare fraud, in exchange for the court’s dropping seven other felony theft counts. She could have served up to four years in jail.

Espinoza spent the money on a Florida timeshare, jewelry, a grand piano, and pews for the church she pastored, a used van, a $2,000 wedding dress and $2,000 car for her daughter, and other items.

But Weiss argued that most of the items she bought were for others, and she still lived in a trailer park when she could have bought a new house.

Weiss argued that Espinoza was on medication for depression and used the money to cope with her son’s death.

Weiss turned over jewelry and a quit claim deed to the timeshare to the court on Friday adding that items had already been turned over.

Espinoza made a statement to the court Friday, asking for leniency.

“I regret the crime I was charged with,” she said. “I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I pray you can show some kind of mercy on this case.”

Alicia Buckley’s mother Maria Shavey, however, told the court that Espinoza, “had no remorse or guilty feelings. She not only disregarded her son, but took away security from a child. Just like any other criminal, she should be punished, regardless of her age or mental status.”

Contact Diane Krieger Spivak at 477-6019 or dspivak@post-trib.com