On Monday, he became the third member of a criminal ring sentenced to prison for preying on families that were attending loved ones' funerals.
Shields, 24, insisted in Snohomish Count Superior Court that he didn't break into any of the 10 homes targeted by the so-called "obituary burglars." The ring would scan newspapers for funeral listings and ransack homes when the coast was clear.
The Lake Stevens man did, however, know he was receiving pilfered jewelry and a stolen big screen TV. He pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing stolen property.
Judge Thomas Wynne sentenced Shields to 1˝ years in prison, the top of the sentencing range under state law.
"I think you are a predator," Wynne told him. "I think the people you were involved with are predators."
When he was arrested, Shields was wearing around his neck a solid silver chain that had been stolen from the Marysville home of John and Danutsia Burgy. It had been a gift to Danutsia Burgy from her father.
The Marysville couple were attending a funeral for John Burgy's mother March 23 when their home was hit and two safes and valuables worth roughly $400,000 were stolen. Among the loot was a piece of the uniform Danutsia Burgy's father, a Polish resistance fighter, was forced to wear as a Nazi prisoner at the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II. The tan fabric, stenciled with his prisoner identification number, reportedly was flushed down a toilet when the crooks decided they needed to shed evidence.
The monetary and emotional toll has been enormous, Danutsia Burgy said.
"We lost our financial safety net," she told the judge.
John Burgy said the burglaries "hit a raw nerve in the community" and were "wrong on so many levels."
Court-appointed defense attorney Tom Cox said Shields has struggled with drug addiction. He asked for an alternative sentence for his client that would have allowed him to get drug treatment. A prison sentence would amount to "a very short warehousing" but doesn't address the drug problems, he said.
Craig Matheson, a deputy prosecutor, said charges are pending against one more defendant tied to the burglary ring.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org
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