OZARK — A court gave five young men who admitted they took part in a costly vandalism spree a choice between having two felony convictions on their records or pleading guilty to misdemeanors and joining the military.
Only one of the men, who are all from Nixa, took the military option as part of plea bargains Monday in Christian County Court, according to The Springfield News-Leader.
The five *faced a total of 49 misdemeanors or felonies for causing an estimated $12,600 in damages during six months of vandalism in Ozark and Nixa counties. They were 17 and 18 years old when they were arrested on July 31, 2009.
The four who chose to plead to two felonies — Josiah Babin, Andrew Bagwell, James Bagwell and Coleman Walker — were ordered to serve 10 days in jail, pay restitution, complete 500 hours of community service and serve five years of probation.
The fifth man, Dustin Cleek, pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors and will serve at least three years in the military. He also must serve 10 days in jail, pay restitution, do 500 hours of community service and serve two years of probation.
Special prosecutor Bert Twibell said giving defendants an option of choosing military service was once common. He said he thought it was a good option for the five young men, who will either graduate from high school this month or graduated last year.
Twibell said defense attorneys brought up the military option.
"I looked at it, got other opinions and talked to a recruiter and decided to allow them to have it as a viable option," he said.
"I think if they were willing to spend three years in the military on active duty — with everything that is going on with our military at this point in time — I think that would be a pretty serious decision on their part and something I certainly wouldn't think would be an easy way out."
Cleek, who is the son of Christian County Prosecutor Ron Cleek, will begin serving his 10 days in jail on May 17. He will then have to apply immediately to a military branch and receive a waiver for his misdemeanor convictions in order to serve.
A sentencing hearing will be held July 16, when a sentencing assessment report on each man who pleaded guilty to the felony charges will be presented. That could help remove the felony convictions from their records, Twibell said.
Twibell was appointed last year as a special prosecutor after Ron Cleek removed himself from the case.