By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK -- A Strasburg woman will spend a year in state prison after stealing more than $2,200 from an account set up to help pay medical expenses for an 8-year-old boy who died of cancer.
Judge Thomas J. Wilson IV sentenced Jessica Lynn Taylor in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Wednesday at the conclusion of a sometimes emotional hearing that lasted 2 1/2 hours.
Taylor, 30, tearfully apologized from the witness stand to members of the Trent Williams family and others packed into one side of the courtroom. The boy's illness and death
galvanized much of Strasburg into an outpouring of support that included a homecoming parade upon his return from a long hospital stay.
Money flowed in from around the country to help pay for Trent's medical expenses. Taylor, a close friend of his mother since sixth grade, was chosen to manage the fund in addition to other tasks she performed for the family.
"From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry to every one of you sitting there," Taylor said during her testimony.
"I'm ashamed," she added.
Her sentence also included three years supervised probation. The sentencing involved a total of nine offenses, four convictions for felony embezzlement, two counts of misdemeanor embezzlement and three felony drug charges.
The boy's aunt, Jamie Petzka, said after the hearing she doubted Taylor's professions of remorse.
"I think we were hoping for a little more," Petzka said of the one-year prison sentence. "But a year will do her some good. At least my family can move forward."
Petzka testified during the hearing that her sister and Taylor had been close friends since sixth grade. Taylor had been with the family in the hospital room when Trent Williams died, Petzka said.
"Knowing that fraud was in there when my nephew took his last breath just disgusts me," Petzka said.
"We tried making excuses for her but there aren't any," Petzka added. "She's just a sick human being."
Taylor's former boyfriend, Richard Sargent of Strasburg, shed some possible light on her motives for taking the money. Sargent said he received an email message from Taylor suggesting she deserved some money from the Williams' family for babystting, housecleaning and other work she performed voluntarily for them.
"They owe me the money," Sargent said, quoting Taylor's email. "I took care of the kids. I fed them."
Taylor testified that she "absolutely" did not believe the Williams' owned her money. She said she took the money to pay rent and other bills.
Shenandoah Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley reacted with scorn to Taylor's testimony.
"She didn't ask for money," Wiseley said of Taylor. "She just took it."
Wiseley urged a harsh sentence, citing the possibility that Taylor's crimes may discourage people in Strasburg from contributing to future fund-raising efforts for cancer patients out of concern it will be stolen.
Taylor's defense attorney, Jerry Talton, urged Wilson to consider that Taylor had quickly paid full restitution for the stolen money -- $2,266. He also asked Wilson to bear in mind that his client had volunteered much time and effort to helping care for Trent Williams before his death.
"There are scales where we have to balance the good deeds someone has done with the misdeeds someone has done," Talton said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org