Sergeant gets six years in military prison for laptop theft


Published: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 30, 2003 at 10:59 p.m.
TAMPA - An Air Force staff sergeant received six years in military prison Thursday for stealing four laptops containing sensitive information from U.S. Central Command, which oversees the nation's security interests in the Middle East.
Sheridan Ferrell II, 33, also will be reduced in rank to airman basic and dishonorably discharged when he's released from prison. He showed no emotion as the sentence was read, but his wife sobbed and left the courtroom.
Central Command is charged with planning any possible invasion of Iraq, but officials have said no classified information was compromised by the theft.
Before the sentencing, Ferrell cried as he apologized to his family and the military.
"I destroyed the most important thing service men and women share with each other and that is trust," Ferrell said. "No longer will I be able to stand amongst you with pride and dignity that I've had for the past 15 years."
Ferrell's mother and wife cried as Ferrell read his written apology. The Compton, Calif., native had already testified for more than an hour about his once-promising military career and the increased stress and financial problems that led up to last year's theft. The women also testified for him.
Military Judge Mary Boone accepted Ferrell's plea agreement Wednesday, as his court martial began in a small courtroom on base. Ferrell also pleaded guilty to stealing two Palm Pilots and a Palm Pilot carrying case. The government withdrew a charge of stealing a hard drive, which he had pleaded not guilty to.
Prosecutors recommended that Ferrell be sentenced to eight years in military prison, exceeding the plea agreement, signed Jan. 21. Boone first sentenced him to seven years, but after reading the agreement, accepted the plea deal guidelines. She was not privy to the agreement until after she gave her recommendation.
He had faced a maximum of 21 years in prison.
Lt. Col. Arthur Jackman called Ferrell's actions "cold, calculated and deliberate" and said Ferrell, upset over a mix-up with his warrant officer program deadline, sought to make someone pay.
"What was the defendant's intent? His intent was to disrupt Central Command," he said. "High standards are expected (of the military). Duty. Honor. Country. One thing we do not expect is revenge."
Defense attorney Capt. Donald Witmyer argued that judge needed to look at not just Ferrell's crime, but his decorated past, which included numerous awards and achievements.
"You've got to consider that this man served with pride, honor and dignity for nearly 15 years," he said. "He's not someone to just cast aside."
After two laptops were found missing on Aug. 2, investigators with the Office of Special Investigations interviewed more than 500 personnel, and on Aug. 9, Ferrell was questioned by investigators.
He confessed to the theft and gave consent for his car and home off base to be searched, Special Agent Charles Burgess said.
Agents found the two computers on Ferrell's bedroom floor, he said. The other computers, which the base had not known were missing, and the Palm Pilots and carrying case were also found. The Palm Pilots and case were stolen in early July.
Ferrell testified that he had considered selling the laptops but once the investigation started, he felt trapped.
"You can't sell them, you can't take them back," he said. "I was like, what do I do now?"
Ferrell detailed for the court his downward spiral. He had a strong start in the military in 1988, serving first at MacDill, then in the Philippines and at Los Angeles, before returning to Tampa in 2001.
"My goals never changed," he said. "Whatever job I was in I wanted to be the best."
Ferrell, who had maintained his composure for most of the two-day court martial, broke down on the stand when talking about his separation from his 10-year-old daughter from his first marriage.
He testified that financial difficulties forced him to take a part-time job, and turn in one of his family's two cars because he could not make the payments. He destroyed the other car in an accident, and his current wife, Tandra, lost her job after surgery. He filed for bankruptcy last year.
"He just snapped, I guess," his mother, Phyllis Moxley, testified.

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