Bike thief gets 3 years in prison

Guilty verdict returned by jury within 10 minutes of deliberation

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter , Dawn Jorgenson - Web - News Editor

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - A judge Tuesday sentenced a bicycle thief to three years in prison after a one-day trial in which a jury returned a guilty verdict within about 10 minutes of deliberation.

The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said Ronald Lee Keener Jr., 46, was arrested in December after stealing a bike parked outside a Dollar General at 525 State Road 16.

The Sheriff's Office had placed the bike, worth $1,000, outside the store as part of an operation targeting crime during the holiday season.

"This particular bicycle has a rather prominent name attached to it and the bicycle is rather expensive. So it was a grant theft charge similar to stealing something of value around $1,000," said SJSCO Public Information Officer Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan.

Keener, who was offered 12 months probation for the crime, pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial.

“Once the matter goes to trial, which it did in this case, sentencing is solely in the judge’s discretion,” said attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters, who is not connected to the case.

Judge Howard Maltz moved forward with Keener's sentencing after the guilty verdict was given and Keener was turned over to the Sheriff's Office, where he awaits transfer to prison.

“The judge had discretion to sentence the defendant up to five years in prison for grand theft,” Peoples-Waters said. “It appears as though the judge heavily took the defendant’s prior criminal history into consideration.”

In St. Johns County, Keener was charged with domestic battery by strangulation in 2011, domestic violence battery in 2012 and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in 2013. 

He also faces other charges in St. Johns and Duval counties, including disorderly intoxication, drug possession and failure to pay child support. 

"It is also notable that the defendant has a prior grand theft charge and a prior burglary charge. The defendant has completed a one-year and a four-year sentence before, so the judge likely considered these prior sentences," Peoples-Waters said.

Keener's attorney, who said they plan to appeal the sentence, sent the following statement to News4Jax Thursday afternoon: 

“Judge Maltz is an outstanding judge and very well respected within the legal community.  There were a few issues that came out during trial that I believe are matters of first impression and need to be decided by a higher court.  Due to the pending appeal, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further on the outcome or the sentence that Mr. Keener received.”

Copyright 2016 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.