MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Peace. Relief. Safety.
Those were the words eight people used to describe their feelings after a former neighbor was sentenced to 40 years in prison Monday morning.
“We feel we can be safe to enjoy our homes and our neighborhoods again,” said Brenda Biller, who was among a group that was threatened and harassed by former neighbor Jason Clark in the Dalraida area where they all lived.
Clark was found guilty of two counts of aggravated assault after having terrorism and drug trafficking charges dropped. At Monday’s sentencing hearing, four of Clark’s former neighbors told Judge Truman Hobbs why they felt Clark deserved to be put in prison.
“He said, ‘I’ll kill that dog.’ The next day the dog was dead by poison,” said Kristin Norris, Clark’s former next door neighbor. “I felt like he knew my routine, and he would hide in the bushes and wait for me.”
Sara Chandler, who said she has known Clark for 28 years, testified last year that Clark killed her grass, shot at her door and keyed her car.
Clark had floodlights, cameras and motion detectors mounted around his house making her front yard “look like the Cramton Bowl,” Chandler said. Clark was also notorious for shining lasers into people’s homes and threatening to kill neighbors.
“I would go to work in the dark, and he would follow me,” Chandler said. “I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
“It’s a major relief that Judge Hobbs saw to do what he did today.”
Clark’s defense attorney Tom Azar pointed out that Clark did not have a documented history of violence prior to the Dalraida complaints, which began around 2009. Azar said that despite the fear neighbors have described, Clark had very few incidents of physical contact with neighbors.
Hobbs decided against Azar’s recommendation of probation and handed down a surprising 40-year sentence that seemed to be based on the potential for Clark to relapse into his harassing behavior and inability to take responsibility for his actions.
“I’ve sentenced people to death. This is the most dangerous person I’ve ever had in my courtroom,” Hobbs said. “He is a ticking time bomb.”
District Attorney Daryl Bailey said he was pleased with the decision.
“When we went in to serve the search warrant we found thousands of rounds of ammunition and all types of firearms,” Bailey said. “He had cameras all around his yard and he had been harassing the poor people in that neighborhood for years. Finally someone brought him to justice.”
A total of 17 firearms and approximately 30 cameras were recovered from his house along with about two dozen floodlights and ammo boxes filled to the top with shells.
Some of Clark’s neighbors said they initially attempted to help him.
Joe Gross said he was on Clark’s side when he first started to hear complaints. But then he began experiencing the side of Clark everyone else knew. Clark shot at Gross’ car with a nail gun. He broke Gross’ rear view window. He even assaulted Gross, walking up behind him and knocking him down in the street.
“I had never experienced his actions until he turned on me and made life so miserable, threatening my life saying he was going to get me and I better enjoy life while I can,” Gross said. “I just donated my home to the church, to Montgomery Catholic High. I couldn’t stay there anymore.”
After Clark was ordered to move out of his house, he was allowed to stay in a local church’s former Sunday school classroom by Janet Boyd, another Dalraida resident.
Boyd didn’t charge him anything to stay there, but when she asked why the water bill was so high (above $300) “he became a different person.”
Clark threatened to hurt children who walked past the church after school, and after threatening to shoot a family, Boyd served him an eviction notice. Clark responded by breaking all the fluorescent lights and putting the glass outside. He also spray painted “This is a cult,” on the church marquee and turned on all the faucets, running up an $1,800 water bill.
“I still don’t feel safe walking by that house. It’s like a fortress there with the huge light that shines every night,” Boyd said.
Prior to the sentencing, Azar cited a risk assessment conducted during the trial that concluded that Clark was not a high or moderate risk to others. He also said there was no proof that Clark vandalized the church.
After his client was given 20 years apiece for each count, Azar called the sentence “way over the top” and said Clark had never been able to tell his side of the story.
“He did what I guess he felt he needed to do, but this case was blown completely out of proportion and Jason intends to appeal,” Azar said. “We had discussed the possibility of the 10-year sentence the probation office recommended but never considered a 20-year consecutive sentence.”
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com