Ex-city worker pleads guilty

Special
Graham

The former assistant coroner pleaded guilty Monday to stealing several gift cards at a New Year's Eve death scene.

Charlena Graham, 44, was sentenced to seven years' probation under the First Offender Act. Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet also ordered Ms. Graham to pay $325 in restitution and $5,000 in fines.

"I want to apologize to the LeBlanc family. I apologize for any additional grief I have caused you," Ms. Graham said in Richmond County Superior Court. She also apologized to her family and to the coroner's office for the embarrassment she caused them.

Ms. Graham was fired and arrested in January after the theft was discovered.

On Dec. 31, Ms. Graham was sent to an Augusta hotel where a 29-year-old woman had committed suicide. Gift cards from her family were in the room.

Stephanie LeBlanc's father expressed the family's appreciation for the swift action by law enforcement, but he said the family was dismayed that media coverage focused on Ms. Graham and her financial troubles.

Bruce LeBlanc said his daughter had hardships, too, but she was working and going to school for a teaching degree. She was on the dean's list at Augusta State University, he said.

Ms. Graham's possible punishment was enhanced because she committed the crime while on duty as a government employee. She could have been sentenced to as much as 15 years in prison.

Defense attorney Pete Theodocion highlighted Ms. Graham's years as a Richmond County sheriff's officer and detective before she joined the coroner's staff in 2004.

Ms. Graham understood that the $325 theft case was worse because of the disrespect to the victim and because she was on duty. But Mr. Theodocion asked Judge Overstreet to balance that against Ms. Graham's lack of prior offenses and her years as a public servant.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.