Pa. alligator thief gets a 'life sentence'

October 11, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - It was an informal affair, the bride wearing a pale green tank top and blue jeans, and the groom dressed in a bright yellow jumpsuit, slippers and handcuffs.

"Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife and live together after you get out of jail?" Franklin County Judge John R. Walker asked Joseph Stephens Jr., who got married Wednesday, the day he was sentenced for stealing an alligator.

"I will," Stephens answered during the brief wedding ceremony to Crystal Ann Newman.

Stephens, 21, of 418 E. King St., was sentenced by Walker just before lunch to one to seven years in state prison and three years of probation on three counts of felony retail theft.

Right after lunch, Walker hitched Stephens and Newman.

"Mr. Stephens, you're the alligator man, aren't you?" Walker asked as the sentencing hearing started. "What were you going to do when it grew up?"


"Eat it," Stephens replied, explaining that he planned to grow the 15-inch reptile before turning it into a meal.

Assistant Public Defender Ian Brink broke in to say that his client told him that he let the alligator go before leaving The Pet Store, 1710 Lincoln Way East, in April. A store security video showed a man slipping the gator into his pants, but the animal was never seen again, according to court records.

"That gator done come back and bit you, because you're going to jail," Walker said.

The state prison sentence was for Stephens' role with another man in the theft of three rifles in April from the Gander Mountain store in Scotland., Pa., according to Pennsylvania State Police records. A surveillance tape captured images of a man slipping a rifle into his pants, the affidavit of probable cause stated. He was recognized a few days later when he started to fill out an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms gun permit application in the store, filling in his name.

Stephens got the three years probation for the alligator caper and a concurrent probationary sentence for a Dec. 20, 2006, incident at Sears in the Chambersburg Mall in which he and two other men were charged with retail theft for stealing tools and electronics, court records stated.

Stephens' restitution came to more than $3,700, including $3,372 to Gander Mountain and $124.99 to The Pet Store for the alligator.

A transfer order from the court was needed to get Stephens to the courthouse last week to get the marriage license, a Franklin County Jail official said. The wedding was supposed to take place after Wednesday's sentencing, but the bride was nowhere to be seen.

"Did the bride get cold feet?" Walker asked.

"No sir," Stephens said. "This is the most important day of my life."

"I'm sure it is," Walker said. "It's not often you get married and sentenced to prison on the same day."

It turned out that Newman was caught in traffic and the ceremony was pushed back to 1 p.m. About a dozen people awaiting arraignment were witnesses to the wedding, along with attorneys, sheriff's deputies and other court officials.

"Sheriff, can he kiss the bride?" Walker asked after pronouncing them man and wife. The couple exchanged one kiss before Stephens was led away.

"I've never sentenced a guy and married him," Walker said before afternoon court began. "We're giving him a package deal."

"By God, he got a life sentence," Walker said, speaking of the marriage.

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