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Burning teddy bear was legal, jury says

POSTED: May 11, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The destruction by fire of a teddy bear was upheld as lawful by a Hall County Superior Court jury Tuesday.

Jurors, meanwhile, wondered why they were ever asked to decide the issue of whether 41-year-old Barbara Kindred-Hendrix committed second-degree criminal damage to property when she ripped apart and set fire to an ex-roommate’s small, brown stuffed bear, named "Teddy."

Kindred-Hendrix was acquitted after a jury of seven women and five men deliberated her fate for a half-hour following a two-day trial.

"It should have been handled in small claims court," one juror who declined to give his name said afterward. "It should not have gone to a jury. If she burned her house down, that would be one thing. But a 20-year-old teddy bear?"

Jurors heard testimony that 24-year-old Jennifer Gordon lived at Kindred-Hendrix’ Chase Drive home for about four months in the spring and summer of 2006. The two parted on bad terms and their feud culminated in August 2006, when Kindred-Hendrix ripped apart Gordon’s stuffed bear and set it on fire with a lit cigarette. Gordon was not at the house when the bear was destroyed, having left the bear and other property, including clothing, at the home for 10 days after vacating the premises, according to testimony.

Gordon testified that the bear was given to her by her father when she was 3 years old and that it was a treasured, sentimental item akin to a security blanket.

During his closing argument, Assistant Public Defender Craig Hickein argued that the property was abandoned and that his client had every right to destroy the stuffed animal. The jury agreed.

"She burned the teddy bear because it was a release — a release of her anger," Hickein said.

Hickein told the 12 jurors and two alternate jurors they should question why the case was being prosecuted in superior court, noting that jurors are paid $40 a day for their service.

"Think of the value of that teddy bear and all the money spent prosecuting this case," Hickein said. "We just had a criminal trial over a burnt teddy bear and nothing else."

Under Georgia law, if someone willfully destroys another person’s property by burning it, regardless of value, it is considered a felony, which is prosecuted in superior court. Police did not arrest Kindred-Hendrix at the time of the incident; a Hall County magistrate court judge issued a warrant on the felony charge in September 2006 after she failed to show up for a scheduled mediation with Gordon.

A Hall County grand jury returned an indictment in the case in May 2007, an indication that the panel members thought the case had sufficient evidence to go forward to trial on the charge.

Hickein would not comment on whether prosecutors made a negotiated plea offer in the case.

Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance acknowledged in her closing argument to the jury that the case "isn’t the most serious case I’ve ever tried."

"It’s a ridiculous case in a lot of ways, but a crime has been committed, and when we’re aware of a crime being committed, we bring it to you," Vance said.

"We care because this kind of stuff escalates, until somebody’s throwing punches," Vance said. "Unfortunately, sometimes the law gets involved in people’s disputes, because we want it to stop right there."



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