Fairfax, VA – A Virginia jury chipped in to pay a woman’s fine after convicting her of theft, and her victim is furious.
Sandra Mendez Ortega, 19, who is in the country illegally, was convicted of felony grand larceny by a Fairfax county jury on Dec. 8 for stealing $5,000 in jewelry.
Instead of giving Mendez Ortega jail time, the jury sentenced her to a fine of $60, her daily pay as a maid.
“The fact that she confessed, and they didn’t want to convict her? I don’t get this. That’s basically saying it’s okay to steal,” said Lisa Copeland, Mendez Ortega’s victim.
The jury foreman, Jeffrey Memmott, said the jurors felt sympathy for the woman who testified she dropped out of school after sixth grade, had one child, and was unemployed and pregnant with another child.
“The general sentiment was she was a victim, too,” Memmott said. “Two of the women [jurors] were crying because of how bad they felt. One lady pulled out a $20 bill, and just about everybody chipped in.”
The jury foreman said he contacted the case’s public defender and went to the former maid’s home to give her $80, enough to pay her fine plus an extra $20.
“We all came to the conclusion, we should fine her the amount she made for a day’s work,” Memmott said.
“Justice had to be done,” juror Janice Woolridge told The Washington Post. “But there’s also got to be some compassion somewhere. Young people make bad decisions. We just couldn’t pile on any more.”
Copeland, Mendez Ortega’s former employer from whom she’d stolen three rings, was outraged at the jury’s behavior, and unhappy with the jury’s sentence and their actions.
She said the $60 fine was insufficient for the crime committed, and said Mendez Ortega had lied repeatedly, FOX News reported.
“I was outraged. I was just flabbergasted. I didn’t think $60 equated to the crime at all,” Copeland said.
“If she had accepted accountability, I would be okay with all of this. The fact that she won’t accept accountability makes it wrong,” she said.
The victim said she discovered her engagement and wedding rings missing in September of 2016, and did not realize a third ring was missing until all of them were recovered. She said the third ring was inexpensive, but that the jewelry was worth at least $5,000.
Copeland called the Fairfax City Police Department and reported the theft, and detectives questioned Copeland’s three housekeepers, including Mendez Ortega.
All three employees had cleaned Copeland’s home, and all three denied any involvement with the missing rings.
After she was questioned by police, Mendez Ortega reportedly felt guilty about stealing her employer’s rings, and returned them to Copeland’s husband Jeff.
She was arrested and charged after she returned the rings, and placed under $1,000 bond.
Melendez Ortega spent eight days in jail before she posted the $1,000 bond and was released.
Police had Mendez Ortega write a letter of apology to Copeland, which the victim said she had never seen.
“Never heard about it until the trial, during sentencing,” she said.
The two-day trial was held in July, but the sentencing was not held until Dec. 15.
Assistant public defender Michael C. Cash had asked Judge Robert J. Smith to defer the case, and not enter a conviction or sentence in light of the defendant’s actions, and the jury’s response.
Smith declined, and imposed a fine of $60.
The jury was not told about Mendez Ortega’s stint in jail or that she was in this country illegally because it wasn’t relevant to whether she stole the rings, according to Fox News.
Copeland said the jury should have been told because the facts were relevant to her case.
“It really irritates me that she came here and committed a felony. People are coming here because there is opportunity here. But when they come here and commit crimes, that’s where you’ve got to draw the line,” Jeff Copeland said.
“I just pray they’re never in my shoes,” his wife said.
Mendez Ortega faced up to 20 years in prison, and a $2,500 fine. Instead, she got no jail time and $20 in her pocket after her fine was paid.
“I became happy when I heard they wanted to give me that [money]. Thank you very much to all of them, God bless them,” Mendez Ortega said through an interpreter.