Irondale man pleads guilty in thefts, bomb threat at Calcutta Walmart

LISBON – A 54-year-old Irondale man, who was involved in schemes to steal from the Walmart in East Liverpool in April including causing a bomb threat which closed the store, pleaded guilty Thursday in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court to robbery and inducing a panic.

John S. Hester, 16 School Road, Irondale, was accused of exiting the Calcutta Walmart without paying for eight items of merchandise, which were valued at $365, by shoving his way past a store security officer, who was attempting to stop him and fleeing the area in a Ford van. That robbery offense was on April 1.

A little more than a week later, Hester reportedly placed a Harley Davidson bandanna wrapped in black electrical tape and duct tape inside the same Walmart. When it was discovered by employees, the object appeared to be an explosive device, which led to the temporary closure and evacuation of the store on the morning of April 9.

Defense attorney Richard Hura told Judge Scott Washam Hester has “genuinely given his life to Christ” and has joined a group known as Team Challenge, a Christian counseling program for men with alcohol and drug abuse problems. Hester is reportedly doing well in the program with a 3.66 grade point average in the classes, which are spirituality-based Hura said, basing his information on a letter from a Glen Piwowarczyk from the program.

Hura suggested Hester should be allowed to complete the program, which he is scheduled to graduate from in July 2014.

“I do think he will benefit and our society as a whole will benefit if he completes this program before sentencing,” Hura said.

Assistant County Prosecutor John Gamble was less optimistic about Hester’s chances of becoming a productive citizen.

“I’m skeptical about first of all, his resolve, and secondly his likelihood of success,” Gamble said, adding he hopes Hester is now sober, but that does not change the fact he committed two crimes.

Gamble noted the crimes caused “tremendous inconvenience” to law enforcement, the Walmart and those who frequent the business.

“I don’t think the public expects us to hold his hand until August,” Gamble said.

Washam agreed in part, setting sentencing for Jan. 16. He told Hura he would allow Hester and his minister, who appeared with him at the hearing on Thursday, to make statements at that time.

Gamble is asking for an 18-month term in prison and requested a presentencing investigation be conducted prior to sentencing.