ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Tuesday overturned the theft conviction of a Talbot County high school janitor who was accused of stealing more than $3,000 from school vending machines.
The appeals court said there was not even enough evidence to show that money had been taken from the vending machines at St. Michaels High School, much less that custodian Gregory Williams had taken it.
“I feel like I just lost 1,000 pounds,” said Williams, who lost his job over the incident. “This is the best news I’ve had all year.”
School officials suspected theft after the school lost money on vending machine sales for the 1995-1996 school year, when Williams worked at St. Michaels.
Williams, who had the keys to the vending machines, was convicted by a jury in April of theft over $300. A circuit judge sentenced him in June to five years’ probation and ordered him to pay the school the $3,419 in vending machine profits it claimed it lost.
But Williams’ attorneys argued on appeal that other workers had access to the vending machine keys and that more than a dozen officials had keys to the school storeroom, where sodas were kept.
“People were accusing him because it was convenient,” said Assistant Public Defender Julia Bernhardt, who handled the appeal.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled that the state had not proved that the loss of vending machine profits was due to theft, noting that it could have come from students or teachers taking sodas from the storeroom.
The court also said that, while a person can be convicted on circumstantial evidence alone, the state did not rule out all other possible causes for the loss of vending machine profits.
Assistant Attorney General Rachel Kamins said she “sincerely doubts” that her office will appeal Tuesday’s ruling.
Bernhardt said Williams, 43, who had worked for Talbot County schools for four years, no longer has to report to a parole officer and will get back the money he has paid toward the debt.
Williams, who now works as a grain elevator operator in Trappe, said he plans to buy a new truck and have a steak dinner to celebrate. Although he worked for Talbot County schools for four years, he said he has no plans to go back.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Williams said. “It’s been bugging me since this thing went down.”