Afton man's 20-year probation in burglary an 'outlier'

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A felony first-degree burglary conviction landed Lawrence Murray Best a sentence of less than a year in jail, but the 54-year-old Afton man will spend the next two decades on probation.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Washington County in March, Best's burglary charge stems from a March 6 incident in which Best refused to leave a woman's Woodbury home and attempted to pocket more than $700 worth of her jewelry.

Woodbury police responding to a call of a man arguing with one of residents at the house noted that the woman was visibly upset when they arrived, according to the complaint.

Police located Best in the home and arrested him on active warrants.

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The woman told police that Best would not leave and that, although he had stayed at the home before, Best did not contribute financially to the household and has never lived there.

She said that she had kicked Best out of her house two weeks prior, but later found him in her basement, made him leave, and changed the security code to her garage.

She found him in her basement March 6 when she returned home over her lunch period to let her dog out.

Police who searched Best after his arrest found two of the woman's necklaces worth about $750 as well a piece of paper with her bank account information written on it. The woman said she never gave Best permission to access her bank accounts.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said his office had asked to commit Best to nearly four years in prison, but suspects District Judge John Hoffman crafted the sentence "with public safety in mind to make sure he doesn't re-offend in the next 20 years."

But the duration of the probation, Orput said, is unusual.

An 'outlier'

"This one is an outlier," Orput said. "I haven't seen a probation this long before."

Instead of the lengthy probation, Orput said he had hoped Best's sentence would include dosage probation, which allows offenders to shorten their probation by completing a certain amount of programs and classes meant to intervene with criminal behavior.

Washington County launched its dosage probation program in January as part of a pilot program with the National Institute of Corrections. Napa, California, is the only other jurisdiction to participate in the pilot.

The program requires offenders to participate in 100 to 300 hours of programming aimed to change their behavior and prevent recidivism.

"Here the incentive is, if you work really hard and take the required programming based on some testing, we'll let you off years earlier," Orput said of the program. "It's not how much time you keep people on probation, it's what you're doing to keep them from reoffending."

Some convictions, including domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct, felony DWIs and murder, are not eligible for dosage probation.

Among his probations conditions was a domestic abuse no contact order. According to court documents, Best is not eligible for dosage probation, but was ordered to undergo a cognitive skills evaluation and adhere to the resulting recommendations.