Ohio County Circuit Judge David Sims said Joshua Bowman's 18-month burglary spree - during which he broke into at least 15 rural homes - was "almost a form of terrorism."
Many of Bowman's victims were in the courtroom Thursday to witness Sims sentence the serial burglar to nine to 100 years in prison. The 33-year-old pleaded guilty in October to five counts of burglary, three counts of conspiracy to commit burglary and one count of bringing stolen property into the state.
Ohio County Board of Education member Gary Kestner said he and his wife were attending his mother-in-law's funeral when Bowman broke into their home and stole things Kestner said are irreplaceable.
Photo by Tyler Reynard
Joshua Bowman speaks during his sentencing hearing in Ohio County Circuit Court on Thursday.
"He stole things from us, your honor, that were passed down over generations - all that we had left from family members," Kestner told Sims. "He stole them and pilfered them for whatever - things that have sentimental value."
Stephanie Barnett - who was a friend of Bowman's when he broke into her residence - said her children were so terrified following the break-in that the family was forced to move.
"My children are still afraid of Mr. Bowman coming back to our home to take what's left of their belongings," she said. "It was not just things that were stolen that day from us, it was our peace of mind."
Ohio County Assistant Prosecutor Shawn Turak commended the work of the sheriff's department, particularly lead investigators Sgt. Doug Ernest and Lt. Joe Cuchta. Ernest estimated the investigation consumed 250 hours and pulled a "massive amount of resources" from the sheriff's department.
Bowman apologized to his victims in the courtroom Thursday and blamed his crimes on an addiction to prescription pain pills. His attorney, Pete Kurelac, argued for Bowman's sentences on the burglary charges to run concurrent with the corresponding conspiracy counts. Sims acted against that argument in favor of sentencing Bowman to the maximum penalty.
"It's almost a form of terrorism," the judge said of Bowman's crimes. "The purpose of terrorism is to strike fear into people. I've got all these people sitting back here who ... are now in fear of somebody coming into their home and are not feeling safe anymore."
Sims ordered the sentence handed down Thursday to run concurrent with the prison term Bowman is serving for a grand larceny conviction in Marshall County. He is serving that sentence in the Beckley Correctional Center.
The break-ins were conducted in similar fashion, with Bowman using tools to force entry into the homes - sometimes in the daylight - and grabbing any jewelry and valuable items he could locate. The prosecution said in some of the crimes, Bowman took firearms from the homes, though he denies that claim.
The sheriff's department began to suspect Bowman after learning he was involved in multiple transactions at a local pawn shop around the summer of 2011 - when the break-ins were occurring most frequently.