As 19 supporters and three detractors looked on, John Dryer walked out of the Payson courthouse a happy man Tuesday morning, his legal woes behind him at last.
Charged with tampering with evidence in connection to the Tonto Basin Cemetery Fund he once administered, Dryer was sentenced by Judge Peter DeNinno to two years probation, 100 hours of community service, and payment of $2,500 in restitution to the fund, a $1,000 fine, and $1,560 in court costs and probation fees.
"I have never had a case where so many people have had so many good things to say about a criminal defendant," DeNinno said before sentencing and after hearing glowing praise for Dryer from most of those packed into the tiny courtroom.
"He has a talent for rallying people to serve the community," said Tonto Basin teacher Linda Cheney, echoing the sentiments of many who spoke in Dryer's behalf. "He consistently donates his time, labor and money to make Tonto Basin better ... People like John Dryer should be celebrated, not scorned."
"From what I've heard today," Dryer detractor Pat Randall of Payson said, "I'm surprised he does not have wings and a halo."
Dryer's sentencing was the culmination of a year-long court case which stemmed from his administration of the Tonto Basin Cemetery Fund from June 1995 to October 1998. During that time, the county attorney's office alleged, Dryer used cemetery funds improperly.
The tampering charge to which Dryer pleaded guilty was the result of his admission that he purposely destroyed a number of the cemetery fund's bank and accounting records.
Although the crime of tampering with evidence is a Class 6 felony, it is in this case "open-ended," meaning that if Dryer fulfills all the terms of his probation, the designation will be reduced to a misdemeanor.
In addition to the comments of Dryer's supporters, DeNinno said that in his sentencing decision he took into account the fact that Dryer has no prior convictions, and the many years he served in the U.S. Marines, receiving several medals and an honorable discharge.
As he sentenced Dryer to the 100 hours of community services, DeNinno told the defendant, "That should be easy for you, since that's what you've always done anyway."
"I am very comfortable with what it all came down to," Dryer said after his sentencing. "Considering the circumstances, and the fact that they started out with eight felony theft and fraud counts against me" all of which were eventually dropped "I think Gila County did the right thing."
Emotionally and financially, however, Dryer's courtroom adventure has been a personal "disaster," he said.
"I may be one or two weeks from bankruptcy. This thing cost me about $25,000, not counting the $6,000 in fines and restitution. But the upside is the community support I received, and Judge DeNinno's fair and honest handling of the sentence."