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You'd think certain places would be out-of-bounds, even to criminals. At least, that's what Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey thought, after the arrest of two thieves accused of breaking into 15 churches across 5 North Carolina counties. "It takes a special kind of criminal to target a church as a place to steal," Cathey told the Charlotte Observer. "A church should be off limits."
But pastors and parishioners can rest easy now that Justin Ray Patterson and Amanda Nicole Hickey are behind bars, and their weeks-long crime spree has come to an end.
Pilfering a Place of Worship
So far, Patterson and Hickey have been charged with seven counts of breaking and entering a place of worship and two counts of larceny after breaking and entering, but those only apply to their crimes in Union County. The pair were also wanted in connection with four church break-ins in Cabarrus County, two or three in Stanly County church break-ins, and at least one each in Mecklenburg and Rowan Counties.
Breaking and entering a place of worship is a Class G felony in North Carolina, and each count carries an eight- to 31-month prison sentence, meaning Patterson and Hickey could be looking at four or five years behind bars, at least.
A Familiar Ring
So how did the church-robbing couple end up on law enforcement's radar? Well, for one thing, both had prior criminal histories, including some recent arrests. Patterson was arrested in January for assault on a government official or employee, and again in June on two counts of failure to appear in court. Hickey was picked up twice for probation violations, in April and again in July.
But what really put the police on the pair's tail was probably Patterson's arrest in 2009, when he was charged with ... wait for it ... a series of church break-ins. Not only were the crimes similar, but they were also committed in Carbarrus and Stanly County. If you're going to have an m.o. as a criminal, you may want to at least ply your trade in a jurisdiction a little less familiar with your criminal history.