By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
EVERETT — Michelle Herrera faced more than a judge and the knowledge she would be sentenced to prison.
The Marysville woman on Tuesday also had to hear from her victims whose anguish remains fresh four months after their home was ransacked while they attended a funeral.
A March burglary cleaned out the Marysville home of John and Danutsia Burgy. The haul included roughly $400,000 in valuables and family heirlooms.
Nothing stung more than the theft of a scrap of cloth that was part of a World War II Nazi concentration camp uniform belonging to Danutsia Burgy’s father.
What made it even more painful was the fact that Herrera confessed to flushing the relic down the toilet at a Portland, Ore., hotel.
Herrera, 33, was part of a ring of thieves who targeted family members of people who had recently died and whose funeral information appeared in obituaries. On Tuesday, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis handed down a prison term of 2½ years, the maximum allowed under state sentencing guidelines.
Typically, the thieves would steal items, such as firearms and jewelry, that were easily disposed of on the black market, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson wrote in court papers. Roughly 10 residential break-ins were blamed on the obit burglars.
“It’s hard for me to imagine a more despicable and predatory series of crimes,” Matheson said.
To Danutsia Burgy, the stolen cloth was a symbol of her father’s enduring spirit. The tan fabric included his prisoner identification number.
Jerzy Budzynski was part of the Polish resistance and was arrested by the Gestapo during the Warsaw uprising. He was first sent to the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland before being moved in a cramped boxcar to Buchenwald two months later. Tens of thousands of people died or were executed at both camps.
Leo Hymas was a 19-year-old American soldier who helped liberate Buchenwald in 1945. Hymas, in his 80s and living in Langley, attended Tuesday’s court hearing.
“That prisoner number from that uniform… was a special part of his legacy,” he said.
Herrera admitted helping with a burglary and possessing and trafficking in stolen property. She has previous drug and assault convictions.
For much of Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, the defendant’s eyes were downcast, her back turned.
When it was her time to speak, the judge told Herrera she needed to face her victims.
“I’m really sorry,” she said. “I know what I did was wrong.”
John Burgy asked the judge to give Herrera the maximum penalty allowed by law.
The thieves were predators who took advantage of people in their weakest moments, he said.
Their crimes shook many people living Snohomish County, he said.
“It has hit a visceral nerve for our community,” he said.
Danutsia Burgy still struggles.
“It stripped away our sense of security,” she said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, email@example.com.