Weatherford Democrat

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May 15, 2013

Escape artist awaits jury’s decision

Man with a history of crimes and escapes pleads guilty to burglary charge, faces 25 to 99 years in prison

By CHRISTIN COYNE

A man accused in a copper theft that caused more than $52,000 in damages to an Aledo church two years ago, leaving Vacation Bible School students and other parishioners without air-conditioning during hot summer months, pleaded guilty Tuesday and has elected to have a Parker County jury decide his fate.

Billy Clay Wade, 49, pleaded guilty to one charge of felony criminal mischief and, because of his lengthy criminal history, faces 25 to 99 years, or life, in prison.

It wasn’t easy bringing Wade to trial for the incident, according to testimony presented to the six-man, six-woman jury Tuesday.

Wade, who absconded from his parole officer in May 2011, not only led officers in a pursuit and intensive manhunt south of Weatherford prior to his arrest in August 2011 but also escaped custody last year, leading to yet another search for his whereabouts, law enforcement officers testified.

The custodian for the newly built Holy Redeemer Catholic Parish building off Old Weatherford Road in East Parker County, David Headlee, told jurors he arrived at his parish on a Thursday in May 2011 to find that five of the eight industrial-size air-conditioning units on the roof top had been destroyed.

Investigators testified that the copper inside the units had been removed, and they found a cigarette butt and a bracelet on the roof, as well.

The church had a $10,000 deductible on insurance coverage for the damage and new units were not installed and functional until late July or early August, Headlee said. The unusually hot summer particularly impacted the parish’s Vacation Bible School because the classrooms and multi-purpose area had no air-conditioning, according to Headlee.

At least six other Parker County churches reported similar copper thefts during the summer of 2011, as well.

The Parker County Sheriff’s Office caught a break in the case after Fort Worth police reported that Wade was caught on the roof of a Toys “R” Us in Tarrant County in a similar case, according to testimony.

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