Stepfather released from restitution in child’s death

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By Susan Sharp

Citing that neither entity slated to receive restitution from Stanley Gagne was a victim, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has released him from the $10,697 obligation.

The justices have sent the case back to Campbell County for another hearing on the matter.

At his sentencing hearing last year, Gagne was ordered by Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton to pay the restitution to Woodlawn Cemetery and East Jacksboro Baptist Church. The restitution was meant to reimburse the church and cemetery for the monies spent on the burial of Gagne’s stepdaughter April Jones. He had previously pled guilty to a felony reckless endangerment charge that stemmed from an incident resulting in Jones’ death.

Gagne was also sentenced to serve one year in jail but that was suspended and he was placed on probation.

The only matter before the appeals court was the restitution to be paid for the gravestone. Michael Hatmaker, Gagne’s attorney, said the amount was excessive.

In Sexton’s order Gagne was told to pay Woodlawn Cemetery $4,530 for the stone. However, Gagne countered $1,200 would be a more appropriate amount for the girl’s grave marker.

He and his wife, and the girl’s mother, Shirley didn’t challenge the $6,100 for the funeral expenses, the ruling said.

After a review of the definition as to who was constituted a victim under state law, the appeals court ruled the church and cemetery fail to meet the legal requirements. Consequently, they weren’t entitled to compensation.

“The individual or individuals against whom the offense was actually committed” didn’t include either party Gagne was to pay restitution to, the ruling outlined. None of entities was obligated to spend the money they did, according to the ruling.

The justices said while understanding “the trial court’s frustration that as a result of the appellant’s (Gagne) conduct” the church and cemetery incurred expenses, there were not legal grounds to deem either one a victim under state law.

The ruling went on to say, the actions of the church “were more a volunteer or good Samaritan role” as the court had referenced in previous rulings.

Gagne’s case will now be sent back to Campbell County for another hearing on the matter.