16 guilty verdicts for 1 man

After two and a half hours of deliberation, a Washington County jury reached guilty verdicts Wednesday night on 16 of the 21 theft-related charges against a former Lower Salem man.

The verdicts marked the end of a two-day trial for Michael E. Jazdzewski, 27, who was charged with 12 fifth-degree felony counts of breaking and entering, three fifth-degree felony counts of theft, five first-degree misdemeanor counts of theft, and a second-degree felony count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider presented 17 witnesses during Jazdzewski’s trial, and argued that he has been the driving force behind more than a dozen area breaking and entering and theft crimes that occurred between December 2011 and August 2012.

“The sheriff’s office got involved in this investigation with the Beverly Police, the Marietta Police, and other police trying to solve these crimes…They didn’t have fingerprints. They didn’t have DNA,” explained Schneider.

Several investigating officers and owners and managers from the victimized businesses testified, but the trial hinged on the testimony of Jazdzewski’s former girlfriend, Ashley N. McKnight, who was an accomplice during several of the crimes.

“She was the driver,” explained Schneider.

McKnight admitted her involvement in several of the crimes, and testified as to Jazdzewski’s role, sometimes breaking out doors to enter locations.

The couple, along with Jazdzewski’s brother-in-law Kristoffer Cline, frequently targeted area pizza places and Dollar General stores, said Schneider.

Cline, 39, of Lowell, was indicted on seven felony and one misdemeanor charge related to the events.

Among the charges, Jazdzewski was accused of breaking into Napoli’s in Vincent, Tractor Supply in Marietta, Dough Boyz Pizza in Reno and Beverly, the Valley Inn in Beverly, Dairy Queen in Marietta, Dollar General in Lowell, Gutberlet Auto Sales in Lowell, East of Chicago in Marietta, and Pizza Factory in Caldwell. The prosecution had entered into an agreement with Noble County to prosecute the Caldwell crime as it was part of a continuous pattern of events.

Five other charges levied against Jazdzewski at his November indictment were dropped before trial because of misunderstood information about the charges or lack of evidence, said Schneider.

Schneider plans to drop three of the eight charges against Cline before his April 1 trial for the same reason, he said.

Jazdzewski’s attorney Joe Brockwell argued during closing arguments that the jury should not give much weight to McKnight’s testimony as she had ulterior motives for testifying.

“She’s desperate to stay out of jail. She has legal troubles in three counties,” he said.

Brockwell pointed out McKnight’s agreement with the prosecution states that she would be spared charges in Washington and Noble counties in exchange for her testimony.

McKnight was convicted in Athens County of safecracking and breaking and entering and served two weeks in jail, said Schneider.

It was in Athens County that McKnight and Jazdzewski were caught robbing a Family Dollar in Coolville in August 2012.

The arrest sent Jazdzewski back to prison in Wisconsin to serve time on a parole violation.

While there, Jazdzewski sent McKnight many letters, some of which were entered into evidence.

In the letters, Jazdzewski admonished McKnight not to speak with police.

Brockwell put forth that the admonishments did not necessarily equate to guilt.

“It’s possible he’s saying, ‘Don’t talk to the cops and get yourself in any more trouble,'” he said.

However, Schneider said the most damning of the letters references the couple as a unit.

“‘They can’t pin this on us unless you talk,'” he quoted from the letter.

Some of the earlier charges involved crimes that took place before Jazdzewski and McKnight got together in January 2012. While McKnight testified as to things she had overheard or been told about those crimes, the jury returned not guilty verdicts on three charges related to them. That included not guilty verdicts on the fifth-degree felony breaking and entering and first-degree misdemeanor theft charges at Napolis in Vincent and a fifth-degree felony breaking and entering charge at Tractor Supply. The jury also returned not guilty verdicts for a later breaking and entering and theft charge at East of Chicago.

Schneider said he was happy with the verdicts, especially the guilty verdict on the most serious charge.

“The jury spent a lot of time sorting it out,” he said.

Brockwell said his client plans to appeal the verdicts.

If convicted, Jazdzewski faces a maximum of 21 years in prison-eight on the second-degree felony, one year each on the 11 fifth-degree felonies, and six months each on the four misdemeanor charges. However, it is more likely that some of those sentences will run concurrently, said Schneider.

Jazdzewski’s sentencing is scheduled for April 15 before Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Burnworth.