January 15, 2010
OTTAWA — The charges were the same. The potential sentences were the same. That’s where similarities between the last two teenagers involved in a summertime vandalism at a local high school ended.
The differences were on display during two separate sentencing hearings Friday in Putnam County Common Pleas Court.
Judge Randall Basinger chided Cody Rau, 18, of Continental, for his lengthy list of in-school behaviorial problems as well as multiple disorderly conduct run-ins with police. Rau was sentenced to four years in prison.
Basinger lamented the decisions Ryan Wells, 19, of Van Wert, made that brought a good student with no record to his courtroom facing three felony charges. Wells was sentenced to a year and a half in prison.
Both pleaded guilty last month to vandalism, grand theft, and breaking and entering. All charges stemmed from a vandalism spree at Continental High School in the early morning hours of July 15.
A third teenager, David Maxwell, 19, of Van Wert, was sentenced to four years in prison last month on similar charges. All three have been ordered to pay restitution. The school district received more than $107,000 in insurance money to cover the damage.
“Mr. Rau, it’s difficult for me to believe your statements here today,” Basinger said. “It’s difficult for me to believe that you did not more actively participate or initiate in this destruction.”
In issuing his sentences, Basinger took into account photos showing underage drinking that were posted to Rau’s Facebook profile after he was released from the county jail. Rau insisted the pictures were taken before he was arrested.
Rau and Wells both admitted to entering the school. Rau said both he and his co-defendants had consumed approximately 15 beers from a refrigerator at his house before deciding to go to the school. Rau argued the trio went to the school for something to do.
“I remember this clear as day,” Rau said. “I told them if things got broke we could get in deep (expletive). Things got broke and we’re in deep (expletive).”
Basinger also took into account the lack of prior discipline issues or criminal record for Wells. Several people, including the Rev. Michael Zacharias, Wells’ pastor at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Van Wert, and Wells’ high school choir teacher, took the stand as character witnesses.
“Ryan’s a good guy. The thing I like the most about him is his honesty, his truthfulness,” Zacharias said. “I was proud the way he didn’t try to lie his way out of this. He fully cooperated with the police.”
Wells said he doesn’t intend to get in any more trouble.
“I want start off with once again apologizing to not only Continental schools but to all of Putnam County. I’ve seen how it affected the entire community as a whole,” Wells said. “I want to thank all the support I’ve had since this July. I’d also like to apologize to you for making this mistake and having this court date today. It was just a mistake that happened. I can make this promise that I won’t be in trouble again.”