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A judge on Wednesday sentenced a woman to seven to 10 years in prison for taking hundreds of brass vases from local cemeteries. She will be required to pay $40,500 in restitution.

Janna Szynskie, 51, pleaded guilty in June to disposing of stolen property after prosecutors alleged she stole hundreds of vases from Memorial Gardens and Highland cemeteries. Szynskie was paid $2,900 after she recycled more than 2,700 pounds of brass.

Szynskie spoke on her own behalf Wednesday in Natrona County District Court, saying multiple times that she was sorry.

“If I’m working and making some dollars, I’ll pay it back,” she said.

District Attorney Mike Blonigen said that his office had identified 334 victims in the case and that the total value of the stolen vases was $173,328.

The hearing began with Blonigen telling the court that his office had been inundated with requests for restitution. The pre-sentencing investigation identified $40,500 worth of vases stolen by Szynskie. But even after that process was completed, people continued to come forward to report stolen grave markers.

The prosecutor then called six victims to give testimony about the impact of Szynskie’s crimes.

Rhonda Rice represented the overwhelming majority of those who spoke when she asked the judge to sentence Szynskie to 10-years imprisonment, the maximum penalty allowed by law.

Rice spoke directly to Szynskie, who was bent at the waist in apparent tears. Rice said the stolen vase was bought to decorate her grandparents’ graves.

“The Lord says I must forgive you. I can’t do that today,” Rice said.

Victim Suzanne Cook, meanwhile, asked Judge Catherine Wilking to sentence the defendant to probation so that Szynskie could get a job and begin paying restitution.

After the victims had spoken, Blonigen asked the judge to sentence Szynskie to serve five to 10 years in prison and pay $173,328 in restitution.

Blonigen acknowledged that paying the full amount of restitution would be all but impossible, but said Szynskie’s actions were particularly objectionable.

“Where’s the line, if that’s not the line?” he asked, rhetorically.

Defense attorney Curtis Cheney instead asked Wilking to sentence his client to a rehabilitative program at Casper Re-Entry Center. Cheney argued for $40,500 in restitution, and said his client could pay $300 per month for 10 years if she were able to work instead of being imprisoned. Cheney said Szynskie “wants to pay restitution.”

Cheney said intertwined addiction and mental health issues had contributed to his client’s actions and that she “frankly doesn’t forgive herself for this.”

As Cheney worked his way through his arguments, a frown creased Wilking’s face.

The defendant repeatedly apologized to the 26 people seated in the courtroom as she spoke in broken tones.

“That’s something I’ll live with every day and I deserve that,” Szynskie said.

In reviewing the case, Wilking said she had considered Szynskie’s prior convictions, which include a drug felony and two felony-level thefts.

Wilking noted the packed courtroom and said Szynskie had violated hardworking families’ “sacred space.” She then sentenced Szynskie to more years in prison than even what prosecutors had sought.

After the sentence, Szynskie left the courtroom ahead of a bailiff. Nineteen victims then circled around Blonigen as he talked about how to distribute recovered vases, many of which are identical.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson


Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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