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Nine character witnesses took the stand Thursday afternoon to testify to Edward Ray Gregory’s reliability as a confidential informant, dedication as a father and devotion as a born-again Christian.
York County Circuit Court Judge Richard Rizk said the court had been leaning toward exceeding sentencing guidelines after Gregory was found guilty last year of burglarizing an ABC store in York County with his former fiancée while leaving their three daughters unattended.
However, Rizk said those witness testimonies compelled the court to order a less severe sentence – 45 years in prison with all but six years suspended.
Gregory, 53, of Yorktown pleaded not guilty to felony charges of grand larceny, burglary, possession of burglary tools and wearing a mask in public, as well as three counts of child neglect in relation to the April 14, 2014 incident.
He was found guilty of all charges after a two-day trial that concluded last December.
Several charges against Gregory’s former fiancée, Elizabeth Pruitt, were dropped after she took the stand against him last October as part of a plea deal.
During the sentencing hearing, two investigators recalled Gregory’s experience completing drug transactions as a confidential informant and confirmed that operations he participated in led to arrests.
Gregory’s first cousin and her husband, his neighbors, a friend, a former inmate and the inmate’s mother then answered questions from defense attorney Romeo Lumaban about Gregory’s relationship with his family and commitment to his faith.
Michael Hunter, whose wife Dianne is Gregory’s cousin, said he has only known Gregory since he was released from prison in 2008 after serving time for another crime, but said he is a man who is “willing to take responsibility and move on with life.”
“He was a changed man I believe,” Hunter said. “He loved his children.”
Since he was incarcerated for the burglary, Dianne Hunter said Gregory has “begged” her to raise his two biological daughters and has expressed concern for the well-being of the third child, who is only biological to Pruitt.
“All he talks about are his girls,” Dianne Hunter said. “He wanted us to make sure they were in a good environment and well taken care-of.”
The witnesses who knew Gregory personally said they had never seen him use drugs, drink excessively or abuse Pruitt or her children. They considered Gregory to be the “primary parent” and recalled Pruitt as a do-nothing who would stay on the couch while Gregory took the children out.
Ronda McDonald said her son met Gregory while they were incarcerated. After he was released, he asked her to visit Gregory because he was concerned he would not have visitors.
McDonald said she was “surprised” by the strength of his faith – Gregory became a born-again Christian while he was incarcerated in 2003. The two would talk about family and pray together when she visited.
“God’s given me a compassion and a love for people, and my son and I love Ray,” McDonald said.
In his closing argument, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeremy Markle returned the court’s attention to the incident that led to a finding of guilt and that day’s sentencing.
He said Gregory’s choice to commit a burglary and leave his children home alone shows he puts himself first, not his children or God like the witnesses suggested.
“He wants to control what’s going on with these kids. He doesn’t have their interest at heart,” Markle said. “This is what Gregory is – him first.”
An overall danger to the children warranted a punishment on the higher end of the guidelines, Markle said.
Lumaban urged the court to consider Gregory’s clean criminal record since he was released from prison in 2008 as well as his efforts to live out his faith.
“Not only is he talking the talk, he’s walking it as well,” Lumaban said.
He said the low end of the sentencing guidelines should be implemented.
“Incarceration should be for those individuals who are going to gain something from continued incarceration,” Lumaban said, adding he did not think this would be the case for Gregory.
Rizk denied a request from Gregory to reconsider his guilty verdict, noting the court “vividly remembers” both trial dates and found the evidence of his guilt “overwhelming.”
After announcing the sentence, Rizk said he was hopeful Gregory is “a new person, a changed person” like the witnesses described.
“Time will tell,” Rizk said.
Gregory indicated he would seek an appeal, and Rizk said he would assign appellate attorney Charles Haden to the case.