Wednesday, November 17, 2010

80-Year-Old Hobo Given Life Sentence for Petty Theft

SAN NARCISO, Calif. -- Mae Verdulia is known to many Bennington Vale residents as the off-beat but strangely charming panhandler who begs for change and cigarettes outside Piers Addleson's Pea House. Her coy smile, burlesque potty mouth, and witty attempts to divorce customers from their loose change have earned Verdulia a place in many local hearts. However, it turns out that the seemingly harmless and self-proclaimed hobo is also an 80-year-old career criminal with a record stretching back to 1955.

Verdulia, who excels at getting caught, has used 27 aliases during the past 55 years and been arrested innumerable times for theft and burglary. On November 17, dispatchers at Few and Shue Security responded to an intrusion alarm at The William Tell Staffing Agency, owned by local entrepreneur Barnabas Hamroid, which ended with Verdulia being taken into police custody. Verdulia's paltry haul included only $898 and some change from the petty cash drawer.

But despite the trivial sum of money involved, Judge Darren Douglass has sentenced Verdulia to die in state prison for the theft, a highly controversial decision. Activists have criticized the judge’s ruling as overly harsh and unusually cruel.

"I just don't understand any of this," said Verna Yerth, longtime Pea House waitress. "She's such a sweet, unimposing old lady. Sometimes she would sing that 'Just a Friend' song by Biz Markie for the customers in line. God, it was awful. The original song, I mean. It was so horrible that Mae almost made it bearable, even though it's an abomination in the eyes of our Lord and Savior. Truly."

Piers Addleson, proprietor of the Pea House, added, "It's like my grandfather always said: one man's drunken caterwauling is another's crooning. Well, he never said anything like that, but you get the point."

But a repertoire of bad songs was just one of the arrows in Verdulia's quiver.

"She was very creative with her begging," Yerth continued. "Nothing gross. She didn't hook, she didn't pretend to be a veteran or anything like that. She tried to catch her flies with honey. I mean, Mae would offer to sell kisses for a nickel. That kind of thing. She probably made ten bucks in nickels from Father Preternature alone. Yesterday, she found a cowboy hat in the dumpster and decided to entertain the patrons with a really dated and obscure Jose Eber impersonation. Silly stuff."

Addelson's wife, Astrid, said, "Whatever it is about her, it works. People love seeing what she'll come up with next. Personally, most of us think it's worth the spare change. I can't believe they're punishing her this way. It's just wrong. An abuse of power, like back home."

Judge Douglass defended his unpopular decision, saying, "If the rule is three strikes and you’re out, Verdulia has gone down swinging for the last nine innings. It’s time she hit the showers for good. Part of me means that literally. She needs a shower."

An old hand in the California penal system, Verdulia stunned spectators in the courtroom when she thanked the judge profusely for not sending her to Los Angeles County jail, which she described as unbearable.

Verdulia said, “I don’t like that one. County’s a crap hole. Last time I was there, this Yooper dyke gives me some shit called Biscay cigarettes. Five minutes later, I’m tripping balls. They ain’t got no baked beans in the kitchen, and the chicken fingers taste like a pencil shavings and halibut ass. Which is what the inmates taste like, too.”

Relieved at the judge’s decision to house her in a state facility, Verdulia became uncomfortably overjoyed as Douglass pronounced a sentence of three years.

“God bless you,” she repeated to everyone in the courthouse.

“I don’t think you fully understand,” Judge Douglass explained after Verdulia settled down. “I gave you three years without eligibility for parole. You’re 80, you’ve habitually abused cigarettes and crack for decades, you’re malnourished, you have STDs the doctors haven’t found names for yet, and your nose has been bleeding steadily since you came in. Three years is about two more than you have left. Your attorney is entitled to appeal. Which will probably take about three years.”

Verdulia responded by saying she’d be back, and not to count her out yet.

She also told Douglass, “I’ve been shitting county food since you were on momma’s milk. I know a thing or two about gettin’ along.” She left the courtroom singing Woody Guthrie's "Get Along Little Doggies" to the bailiff.

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