Ricky Royal, 51, of Conyers pleaded guilty to theft by shoplifting Thursday before Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation in connection with an incident that occurred in November 2009. Assistant District Attorney Debra Sullivan said the incident happened when a Conyers Police officer saw Royal ducking behind cars in the Wal-Mart parking lot and noticed Royal's pockets were full of "stuff." The "stuff" turned out to be about $150 worth of stolen CDs.
Sullivan went through a list of 13 other previous convictions, including four felonies, for Royal.
The state's recommended sentence was three and half years to serve in confinement.
"We'd also ask that he be banished from Rockdale County," Sullivan said.
But Royal called it a "poverty crime," and asked the judge to consider that during sentencing.
"I really just did this out of desperation and that's the God's honest truth," Royal said.
Royal explained to the court that he was working for someone in construction for three years until the economy soured.
"It just got to the point where he didn't have any work," Royal said. "I was going out every day, trying to get work. I made a sincere effort."
Royal said he already had his water and gas shut off at his residence and was three and half weeks away from losing his electricity. The defendant told the judge he reached out to all the available local emergency aid organizations and called some of the area churches for help.
"Really, I was one step away from the streets. It had nothing to do with drugs or anything else. It was just trying to survive," Royal said. "I was just a victim of circumstance."
Royal said he needed to get back home as soon as possible so his family "won't suffer because of my stupidity."
Chief Public Defender Steven Purvis, Royal's attorney, added that all the stolen items were returned to the store.
Nation said he was sorry Royal was in that position, but said it does not excuse violating the law. The judge also pointed to Royal's long criminal history, which included other shoplifting convictions.
Nation noted Royal was in and out of jail since 1989 and that made it hard to find employment. The judge also did not understand why Royal could not find assistance.
"Because they're giving away money in Washington now like it's water ... I don't know why you can't get some of it. Everybody else is getting some," Nation said.
Punishment was in order, Royal told the judge, but he thought three and a half years was "kind of harsh."
Nation told Royal he could be facing the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
"We don't have to put up with thieves taking everything that hard-working folks earn," Nation said. "Thirteen times have the people of this state put up with you, and we're not going to do it anymore."
Nation followed the state's recommendation, but allowed Royal to stay in the county upon his release from prison.