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A tale of two Stanley Noblins

South Boston News
Stanley Noblin makes his way to Circuit Court for sentencing. / October 21, 2013
After a back-and-forth stream of condemnation and testimony lauding his character, disgraced former Sheriff Stanley Noblin learned his fate at a sentencing hearing Thursday morning in Halifax County Circuit Court — a 10 month jail term on five counts of embezzlement.

Noblin, convicted in July of stealing sheriff’s department funds intended to go towards drug and crime fighting efforts, entered the Halifax Courthouse trailing a procession of friends and family members, including his wife and children. He gave an emotional statement in court, saying he had embarrassed himself and loved ones through his actions.

Whereas once he was known as a lifelong lawman, said Noblin, now “my title is thief.

“I want to apologize to my family and the community for the things I’ve done … My family has suffered terribly through this whole ordeal,” he said.

With a worn Bible placed on the table in front of him as he stood before the court, Noblin said he had attempted to use the episode to teach his children the importance of integrity — integrity which he himself had not shown.

He implored presiding substitute Judge Leyburn Mosby of Danville for mercy.

Mosby rejected a prosecution request to sentence Noblin to 10 years in prison, noting that in “other embezzlement cases I’ve handled throughout the years, almost no one has served any time.”

This case, however, is different, the judge said.

"You violated the public trust, and there needs to be a punishment for that. It’s a difficult case for the court, it really is,” said Mosby.

He sentenced Noblin to three years in prison on each of five embezzlement charges, but suspended all but two months of each charge, for a total active sentence of 10 months. He further ordered 24 months of supervised probation and five years after that of unsupervised probation. Noblin will serve out his jail time in the Blue Ridge Regional Jail system and be allowed to participate in work release. Mosby also ordered him to make restitution for the money he stole from the department.

Noblin was ordered to report to jail at 9 a.m. Friday.

Special prosecutor Eric Cooke, Southampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney, argued for a much harsher sentence to set an example for what happens when a law enforcement officer breaks the very laws he is sworn to uphold.

Officers of the law, said Cooke, “truly live in glass houses. We live in glass houses and are held to a higher standard.” While “the vast majority of people in uniform serve with integrity, contrast that to Mr. Noblin, who put $103,000 in his pocket.

“This is somebody who for many years helped himself [to public funds] and got used to it,” Cooke continued. The amount of money Noblin took could have paid the salary of a deputy sheriff for three years, or been used to purchase new vehicles or firearms. By stealing the money, he “has betrayed the sacrifices by men and women of law enforcement.

“There is no question what this man has done has been detrimental to the [sheriff’s] department and to the view of the citizens of the department,” Cooke said.

Noblin’s lawyer, Glenn Berger of Altavista, acknowledged that Noblin has “disgraced himself, he has disgraced his family, and it will take him the rest of his life to live down that disgrace. This community will not forget that wrong.”

But Berger argued that first time embezzlement rarely leads to active prison time, and he said Noblin was ready to dedicate himself to the task of trying to make something good out his ordeal.

“He can be an asset to the community as he has been in the past,” said Berger, offering that the former sheriff wants to work with young people to see that they don’t make the same mistakes he has.

Little purpose would be served by sending Noblin to prison, Berger argued: “Certainly, justice embraces mercy as much it does punishment.”

Berger’s plea followed a parade of character witnesses on Noblin’s behalf. First to testify was Coleman Speece, a friend, fellow member of First Baptist Church and member of South Boston Town Council. Noblin had made “serious mistakes,” Speece told the judge, but “the Stanley Noblin I knew was a dedicated husband and father and a tremendously effective church leader.

"If given the chance, I think this man can revert to the community citizen I’ve known,” he said.

Susan Davis, associate pastor at First Baptist, testified to the involvement of Noblin and his wife, Emily, in leading the church young group — a commitment the Noblins made even before their own three children were old enough to take part. “They made a very positive impact on the lives of these kids,” said Davis. The Noblins, she continued, “are a very close knit family. I have never seen Stanley and Emily just drop their kids off at ballgames or church. They are always there with them.”

Randy Irby, president of Scottsburg Dixie Youth, praised Stanley Noblin’s involvement as a coach in each of the ten years that Irby said he has been with the league. “He’s always there, he’s a good coach and he treats kids fairly.

“He broke the law and he’s admitted to that, but I think it would be a sad things to waste a devoted father and family person,” said Irby.

Sarah Dunavant of Halifax took the stand to offer her praise for Noblin, who she said had helped her through a difficult domestic situation in the past. “Stanley went above and beyond the call of duty to offer his services … and to help me in any way possible. I felt he truly cared.”

Dunavant further told Judge Mosby that Noblin has a standing offer of employment with her father’s company, Dunavant Engineering of Halifax, which could help him make restitution.

More than a dozen persons offered to testify on Noblin’s behalf.

Two family members testified on Noblin’s behalf: his wife Emily, and brother Jerry. Jerry Noblin struggled to control his emotions on the stand, noting how he and his brother had been raised in the church, and to know the difference between right and wrong. “He’s lived that value his whole life. I was very proud of him [as sheriff]. This is very out of character, what happened. It was a mistake he made. It’s not him.”

Much of Emily Noblin’s testimony centered around the family’s finances. She said much of her husband’s troubles started in the summer of 2007 when he quit his job as a Virginia State Trooper to run for sheriff. The loss of income from that job was compounded by an interruption in the family’s health insurance. At the same time, she said, one of their child developed problems with seizures. “It seemed like things just fell apart,” said Noblin. She added, “That was a tough summer.

“It was astronomical, just the insurance alone,” she said.

The family has put their northern Halifax County home on the market, and is offering to apply 90 percent of the equity towards paying restitution when the property sells. “I would prefer the entire amount to go,” she said.

She said the only thing outside of the house and two used cars, the family has no investments or assets to apply to restitution. Challenged by Cooke about a savings account for the children’s college education, Emily Noblin said that money came from a grandmother.

Cooke latched on Noblin’s failure to pay any restitution to this point, noting that the only debt that the ex-sheriff has left is a $4,000 payment. Other creditors — credit card companies, friends who lent money — have gotten their money. “So everybody else has gotten paid except for the Halifax County Sheriff’s Department?” he asked at one point.

The restitution sum consists largely of drug interdiction funds from the state asset forfeiture program and local taxpayer funds provided by the Halifax County Board of Supervisors to the local drug task force for drug interdiction. Noblin also took around $30,000 in the sheriff’s office safe passed down by his predecessor, Jeff Oakes.

Noblin took office in 2008 after winning his race over Oakes in 2007. Cooke pegged the time frame for Noblin’s theft from the end of 2008 to 2011, when allegations of embezzlement first began to surface — fanned by Oakes, the man Noblin unseated in the election.

In November 2011, Noblin lost resoundingly in his bid for re-election against current Sheriff Fred Clark.

Cooke noted that the current Halifax County Sheriff’s Office administration is working towards rebuilding the trust of the community, and prison time for Noblin is a key part of that process.

Noting that all convicted criminals, “with the possible exception of sociopaths, have some redeeming qualities,” Cooke offered a rebuke to those who say Noblin deserves mercy. “[His actions] were so egregious, and so significant, it washes out the rest of those things.”

But Judge Mosby said he believed Noblin’s crimes represented “an aberration of character.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can’t ever remember having this many people coming out in support,” he said.

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