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A Palm Coast Man’s 5-Year Prison Sentence for Armed Robbery Exposes Intersection of Opioids, Suicide and Crime

| April 12, 2019

Gary Hodges testifying on his own behalf this morning. (c FlaglerLive)

Gary Hodges testifying on his own behalf this morning. (c FlaglerLive)

A 35-year-old Palm Coast man was sentenced to five years in prison this morning in circuit court in Bunnell. It was a relatively routine sentencing but for the story that led up to the man’s crime, the only crime in a life wracked by 20 years of physical and psychological pain, much of it the result of addiction to opioids.

The story of Gary Hodges is not uncommon, but it is uncommonly heard, and it illustrates the intersection of opioids, suicide and crime, and how those contending with an opioid addiction triggered by a physician’s over-prescription for “pain management” are left to deal with the consequences largely on their own. At times, as with Hodges’ case, those consequences take a turn for the worst: a violent crime. That, too, leaves the crime’s perpetrator contending with the consequences largely on his own, but at a much greater cost to those around him.

It did not matter that Hodges himself called 911 shortly after he carried out the robbery to tell the dispatcher what he’d just done. (After all, he’d bought cocaine with the money he’d stolen first.) And in a strange way, though that, too, is not uncommon, he dried out from drugs for the first time in a decade and a half when he was in jail, a stint he and his wife now say may have saved his life.

“I do want to continue on the right path. I want to seek treatment,” he said in court this morning.

It is the sort of case that blurs the line between a person’s status: a criminal certainly, but also a victim, and a victim likely more so than a criminal. But courts aren’t in the business of arbitrating the devastations of private lives–only those inflicted by crime.

The clerk Hodges confronted at the Dollar Store also testified this morning. But she, too, minimized the effects of the incident.

“I do forgive him for what he did. He didn’t harm me,” she said, “he didn’t threaten me, no harm, he just asked for the money and I gave him the money, and that was it. I know he has a problem and jail is not the answer of the problem that he has, because he needs help.” She said she had been terrified at the time of the robbery, but more by the fact that it was the first time she was the target of such an incident than by anything Hodges himself did in particular. “He didn’t scare me, it was just like–it’s hard to explain,” she said. (Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, however, pointed out how she came across as more scared in her account to police at the time of Hodges’ arrest. But she stressed again that she had not been overly scared.)

The day before Hodges took out a hunting knife and robbed the Dollar General store on State Road 100, he had yet again tried to kill himself.

“Unfortunately his last suicide attempt which occurred the day before his arrest, he overdosed,” a psychologist who testified on his behalf this morning told his sentencing judge in circuit court. His wife found him unresponsive, his wife took him to the hospital, Mr. Hodges admitted he tried killing himself.”

It wasn’t the first time. Hodges had been severely addicted to opioids in the past, the psychologist said, then was dependent on methadone, without which he would go into withdrawal. He suffered from “disconnection from reality,” he would “do things extremely out of character,” he suffered from “severe depression,” and he came from “a horrific family background” that included violence and other forms of abuse.

But he pleaded guilty to last June’s robbery at the Dollar General in Bunnell, where he ordered the clerk to hand over money from the cash register after requesting a couple of packs of cigarettes. And he agreed to an open plea at his sentencing, meaning that the judge could sentence him to up to life in prison. His score sheet showed he faced a minimum of five years in prison. The state was seeking just over 6 years.

The robbery was the only evidence of criminal history.

It was Hodges’ defense attorney’s job to minimize the sentence. Hodges was represented by Assistant Public Defender Bill Bookhammer. He elicited testimony from the psychologist in attempts to show that Hodges could function well on probation or house arrest rather than prison, as long as he was taking his medications and following through with psychological treatment. The alternative, the psychologist said, would devastate his family.

“His wife has been preparing [his son] that daddy isn’t coming home, that daddy is going away,” Lisa Potash, the psychologist, told the court, describing how this very morning when the child was taken to school, he soiled himself and had to be taken home to change. “The impact on a child when a parent is incarcerated is extremely damaging and often irrevocably damaging,” she said, saying she believed Hodges did not present a risk to society. “It really appeared that this was an isolated, desperate, irrational act by someone who tried to kill himself the night before.”

Neither the attorney nor the psychologist addressed the effects on his family of his multiple suicide attempts or his drug addiction–begun after he broke his back falling off a roof and was prescribed opioids with little regard for the risks of addiction, as physicians often did until more recently–or how that squared with what she described as his desire to be “a productive member of society.” But he did.

“Life takes the best of you sometimes. You forget what life’s about,” he said, testifying on his behalf. The cocaine blunted the pain and allowed him to work. When it wore off, he went back to “feeling like crap.”

“I get up every day with the drive to help my wife and kid. That’s what motivates me,” he said. When he could not work, he said it made him feel “like trash,” the way he had when he was in bed for 18 months after his accident, the way he had before the robbery. He had “reached a limit,” he said, after dealing with his pain for 20 years.

Hodges’ wife also testified on her husband’s behalf.

Bo Samargya, the assistant state prosecutor, said the robbery was not so easily excusable just because he was in pain. Nothing in the testimony submitted today indicated that somehow he did not understand that there was repercussion to this conduct,” the prosecutor said. There had to be some prison time, the prosecutor said. “It is a very serious, violent offense. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.”

Bookhammer described how Hodges has had the resilience “to live in chronic pain, every minute of every day,” and how he should be a candidate for probation, not prison. He stressed how even his victim forgave him.

“This is the ripple of the pond effect. What Mr. Hodges did affected several people, and he knows that,” Bookhammer said. He knew it the moment he committed the robbery by calling 911, Bookhammer said. “He can’t take back what he did that morning. The question is, what do we do now. What is society’s interest in trying to punish Mr. Hodges” versus going the rehabilitation route. Bookhammer acknowledged the court’s responsibility to punish. But “this is not a person we need to be concerned with,” he said.

Bookhammer asked for supervised release (that is, house arrest) followed by probation. “That is the best solution for this tragedy. And it is a tragedy,” he said.

It was left up to Perkins to decide whether it was the sort of tragedy that warranted eliminating prison time from the punishment.

The judge summarized Hodges’ life and the basis of the “downward departure,” meaning the request by the defense to sentence Hodges to less than the minimum recommended sentence. Perkins found Hodges “amenable to treatment,” but did not find that his mental disorder is unrelated to his substance abuse. “It was particularly aggravated by such on the night of the crime. So there was no sufficient basis for a downward departure in that circumstance. Nor was there one on the basis of the event’s isolation. ‘I accept the defense’s evidence and argument that Mr. Hodges has shown genuine remorse,” Perkins said, and could verify his lack of any criminal history that it was out of character. “That being said, the evidence does not show that this is an unsophisticated event.”

Perkins said his discretion was limited. But he said he accepted the testimony of Hodges’ wife with regard to the effect of any sentence on her and her child. He also accepted her testimony that her husband was “desperate, that something snapped.” And he acknowledged the victim’s “big heart” for forgiving Hodges. Still, “I do find that he is a danger to society,” the judge said, imposing sentence: 61.5 months in prison, with three months’ credit for time already served, and two years’ drug-offender probation. Between time served and credit for good behavior, he is likely to be out of prison in little over three years.

Hodges, who had been out on bail, was then handcuffed and fingerprinted.

“Can I give him a hug?” his wife asked from a bench. A bailiff waved No.

“I love you,” she told her husband.

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10 Responses for “A Palm Coast Man’s 5-Year Prison Sentence for Armed Robbery Exposes Intersection of Opioids, Suicide and Crime”

  1. Agkistrodon says:

    What if someone would have gotten killed in the process. If he would like Sympathy, it is in the dictionary between “shit” and “syphilis”. I took opioids for 20 years myself, PRESCRIBED, and I quit, ON MY own, AMA. But while I was taking them I never once committed a FELONY with a GUN, or a felony period.

  2. JF says:

    And yet again we have a heavy handed judge in this county. We all make mistakes and Mr. Perkins has absolutely no empathy. Remember he was brought out of retirement to hold circuit court here in Flagler and is also a former Chief judge. I am sorry, but what a jerk you are. Trying to rack up those sentence years till you hit a certain number I guess. This man needs help NOT PRISON! This guys life is destroyed now because he made on e mistake. I agree he needs to be punished ,but come on PRISON. Judge I hope one day you have an open forum where the public can ask you questions and I wish the state attorneys would do the same. But y’all don’t give a damm about that. All you care about if that fat check,luxury lifestyle and fancy cars y’all drive. SMH. Am I the only one who feels this way?.

  3. Cry Me A River says:

    Oh boo hoo! Selfish fatbody. When I was 19 I was sent to the pokey for 10 years for an UNarmed robbery. A dine and dash at a restaurant. No priors. No drugs. No alcohol. Just idiocy. I dealt with it. Learned from it. A much better person because of it. That was 30 years ago! Raised 3 kids who are way better people than me. Happy wife (I think). Wonderful life so far.

    Sick of hearing all of these sob stories about drug and alcohol addiction from these squirrelly little boys. MAN UP! GROW UP! Stop being so goddamed self absorbed.

  4. Realist says:

    Mr. Bookhammer is a good lawyer. I paid for a private one for my son and feel ripped off. The real problem is this county overcharges people so they either accept an unfair plea deal or are sentenced to more time than the crime warrants. I have written the governor and got a polite brush off.

  5. Outside Looking Out says:

    So once again someone’s life and his family’s lives are completely destroyed by drugs. Where did these drugs come from? Not from a street corner or a dark alley – they came from the biggest group of drug pushers in this country – DOCTORS! They dispense their poison on behalf of big pharma and they accept their kick-backs and gifts with no guilt at all.
    I’m an old man and watch a lot of old TV shows on the stations that show them (TVLand, MEtv, ANTtv, etc), almost every commercial is for some type of drug (ask your Dr if so & so is good for you) and of course he or she is going to say yes! I even saw a commercial the other day for persons who suffer from a curved penis! Give me a break.
    I’m sorry for this man. He definitely did things he shouldn’t have done but he did it for drugs! I think that there comes a time when rehab is useless, the addiction is too strong. The mind has already been destroyed and it all started because a doctor wrote a prescription and had no feelings what so ever of what the consequences might be. I’m not saying all doctors are this way but the majority are. Big pharma has the bucks and many doctors will take a share!

  6. hawkeye says:

    In my estimation ,he got what he deserves,I do not feel sorry for him ,maybe after he gets out of prison he will be a model citizen like “cry me a river”.

  7. Mmpatient says:

    So now becoming addicted to drugs is a valid reason to commit robberies?ive always said flagler county loves there junkies however this is a obvious miscarriage of justice.

  8. Percy's mother says:

    He appears to be a Caucasian male.

    I thought only African-American males are the only ones who get the worst of the justice system.

  9. Mmpatient says:

    I wes sent to prison for 4 years for failing a urine test for cannibis,i was on 5 years felony probation for possession of less then 28 grams.if any none drug addict did this same crime they would be facing 15 to life regardless of there personal weaknesses and pathetic excuses

  10. oldtimer says:

    I wonder if any of the people who think this was a heavy sentence ever had a gun pointed at them ?

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