Stolen property, drug, attempted escape cases net man 14-plus years in prison

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WALLA WALLA — A man convicted last month in a jury trial of possessing dozens of items of stolen property in December, as well as committing various drug offenses, has been sentenced to more than 14 years in prison.

That includes about four years imposed on Richard E. Cornwell Jr., 37, for trying to escape from the courtroom at the Walla Walla County Courthouse after the verdicts were announced May 23. He was apprehended in the hallway.

Of the 11 crimes Cornwell committed in December, two were possessing stolen firearms. Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann ordered him to serve a total of 10 years and four months on those counts, with sentences for the other crimes to be served at the same time.

Lohrmann rejected arguments by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gabriel Acosta seeking an exceptionally long prison term of about 21 1/2 years. Acosta maintained that the scale of Cornwell’s criminal activity “exceeds what we normally see,” snowballed and impacted many victims.

But Lohrmann said that for those crimes, he wanted to fashion a total sentence near the 10-year maximum allowed by law.

He imposed the sentences Monday, but they were amended and finalized Tuesday after an error was discovered. Cornwell already has filed a notice of appeal.

Police contend he was selling or trading illegal drugs for stolen property at his then-residence at 520 S. Third Ave. In a letter to Lohrmann, Detective Chris Ruchert detailed the emotional devastation of some victims who discovered “priceless family heirlooms had been taken from their homes by a trusted family member to feed their habit.”

In closing, Ruchert wrote, “(Cornwell) provided, in essence, a one-stop shopping center where addicts could bring the fruits of their nefarious activities and receive that which they placed above all else, drugs.”

At Monday’s hearing, Cornwell told Lohrmann: “I’m sorry. I’m not a bad person.”

Cornwell was a steady job holder, a family man and had no previous felony history. His attorney, Richard Wernette, told Lohrmann that “something happened relatively recently to make him go down that path.”

A 10-year prison term, Wernette argued, would be sufficient punishment for Cornwell and deterrence for others.

“Throwing the book at him (for non-violent offenses), maybe is not the best for society,” Wernette said.

Although Lohrmann went along with Wernette’s argument, he told Cornwell, “You were the center of an operation that encouraged all that type of (criminal) activity.”

Lohrmann decided Cornwell would have to serve the four-year sentence for first-degree attempted escape separately because it was a distinct violation of the law. Cornwell pleaded guilty to that crime Monday.

After his three-day trial in May, the jury convicted him of delivering methamphetamine, possessing four controlled substances with the intent to deliver them, using drug paraphernalia, second-degree possessing stolen property, first-degree trafficking in stolen property, possessing a sawed-off shotgun and the two counts of possessing a stolen firearm.

The jury found the drug delivery and possession offenses occurred within 1,000 feet of the perimeter of a school grounds.

Law enforcement served a search warrant Dec. 12 at Cornwell’s residence because he reportedly had sold methamphetamine to a confidential informant the previous week.

Detectives found a safe in the master bedroom in the basement. The safe contained heroin, methamphetamine, hydrocodone pills and methadone — packaged separately for sale — and more than $1,100, according to officials.

Authorities also reportedly found hundreds of items — amounting to two U-Haul truckloads — that were stolen during numerous burglaries in and around the Walla Walla Valley. However, testimony at the trial focused on a smaller number amounting to dozens of items.

The property, which was returned to victims, included a large number of tools and the two stolen guns.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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