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With plea, coroner can stay in office

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Crystel Myers leaves court after the judge accepted her plea. Myers, the county coroner, plans to meet with her deputies soon and will resume taking cases. (Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)
Crystel Myers leaves court after the judge accepted her plea. Myers, the county coroner, plans to meet with her deputies soon and will resume taking cases. (Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Crystel Myers will get to keep her job as county coroner after a judge’s ruling Monday.

Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow accepted a plea agreement Monday morning in which Myers, who had been accused of stealing and charged with felony theft, pleaded guilty to a lesser offense.

Had Myers been convicted of the felony, she would automatically have been removed from office. Monday, she pleaded guilty to conversion, a Class A misdemeanor that allows her to retain her position.

Myers was arrested in December after officials at Wal-Mart in Greenfield said she and a friend were recorded on surveillance video stealing $100 worth of toys from the store.

Monday, Myers received a year on probation and 100 hours community service for her crime. Snow determined the sentence after hearing from the prosecutor and Myers’ defense attorney.

Bonnie Wooten, who represented Myers, called Myers’ husband, Justin Myers, to the stand to talk about the family’s financial situation.

Her questions revolved around the financial burden it would cause the family if Myers were jailed or put into a fee-based program such as home detention.

The family has three small children.

Following the hearing, Myers expressed relief the ordeal was over, saying she didn’t want to go to trial.

“Is it worth the county’s money? Is it worth more criticism from everybody else? No,” she said. “I wanted to be done.”

Her next step is to prove to the public she is still deserving of her position, she said.

“I know it’s not going to be easy for anybody, but I am going to restore that,” she said. “I’m glad it’s over, and every day, I will put trust in there.”

Myers said she plans to first call a meeting with her deputy coroners, who have been overseeing all death investigations since Myers’ arrest in December. After that, she will resume taking cases.

“I worked hard to get my job,” said Myers, the first Democrat in years to be elected to countywide office. “I worked hard to be in the situation I am, and in the blink of an eye, that changed. I regret decisions that were made.”

While Myers is legally able to continue to hold her position, some within the county Democratic Party have expressed concerns about her remaining in office, county Democratic Party chairman Phil Hunt said.

“I’ve been taking a little bit of flak over it,” he said. “Of course, until the case was decided, there was not really anything that could be done.”

Hunt said that Myers did not communicate with party officials while the case was pending on the advice of her attorney.

Now, he plans to reach out to her to talk about the future direction of the office.

“The party is definitely concerned,” he said. “We’ll just discuss the whole issue and see what’s best for her and what’s best for the party.”

County party treasurer Tom Billings said he was less concerned about the resolution of Myers’ criminal case than how she had been running the office in recent months.

Myers came under fire early this year after county officials discovered she had not been paying her office’s bills, including invoices for autopsies and pathology services.

“That, to me, is more serious,” Billings said. “She should have been doing her job, making sure it was done. That was her responsibility. I’m more concerned about seeing that all that is taken care of.”

County Republican Party chairwoman Janice Silvey echoed Billings’ concerns.

As county treasurer, Silvey worked hand in hand with the auditor’s office to sort out the mess of unpaid bills at the end of 2013.

“She left the coroner’s office in a bind,” she said. “At the end of the year, what budget you haven’t used, you lose, and she had bills that should have been paid out of that.”

Myers’ chief deputy coroner, Rudy Nylund, later interceded on her behalf to straighten out the invoices.

Silvey said she worried that the public’s trust in the coroner’s office has suffered.

“I think it’s going to be a sour note for a while until we can get someone in there that can prove themselves,” she said.

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