Woman, 73, pleads not guilty in Chiefland church theft case


Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:14 p.m.

A former Chiefland Planning Board member entered a not guilty plea Wednesday to grand theft.

Mary Marshall, 73, was arrested last summer by Chiefland police and charged with grand theft after $120,000 disappeared from her church's bank account. The money was reportedly being saved to pay for renovations on Mount Erie Baptist Church in Chiefland.

On July 16, Marshall's husband, James Marshall, and the couple's pastor, Lewis King, went to the bank to withdraw the money. Bank officials told them the church account had been nearly depleted and that James King's savings account had also been nearly emptied.

Police said Marshall tried to contact his wife about the missing money, but it took him several days before finding her at a daughter's home in Ocala. Mary Marshall subsequently turned herself in at the Levy County Jail on the grand theft charge. She has since been released from jail.

During an arraignment in Levy County on Wednesday morning, Mary Marshall's attorney, Rod Smith, entered a not guilty plea on her behalf. He could not be reached for comment on the case later in the day.

Mary Marshall, a well-known figure in Chiefland, served on the planning board for about 20 years before she resigned in late November. Investigators said her reputation as an upstanding member of the community apparently made it easier for her to access the church's money. Police said Marshall often told the church's designated check writer to make out checks to cover various bills.

In the court file, police investigators wrote that, "It appears that Ms. Marshall is viewed by many in the Chiefland community as a mentor and role model and that her word is taken at face value as being truthful. It was described to this investigator that if Ms. Marshall says that it's so, then it is so.

"This blind trust and faith in Ms. Marshall only helped her facilitate this theft, as none of the church members questioned her honesty, integrity or truthfulness as any time," they stated.

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