Church burglar faces victims

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 11:59 21/09/2012

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A drug-addicted church employee who committed a string of burglaries at her house of worship and against members of the congregation has stood up and apologised for her actions at a church service.

In turn, as the Palmerston North District Court heard yesterday, her victims forgave her.

Samantha Erana-Waitangi MacDonald, 23, was sentenced to 12 months' intensive supervision on four burglary charges.

She stole $12,190 worth of items from The Breakthrough Church, where she worked as the pastor's personal assistant, and three houses belonging to church-goers.

All that was to fund her methamphetamine habit - but thanks to a residential rehabilitation clinic, she had now overcome the addiction.

MacDonald owned up to the burglaries earlier this year, including one on November 10 from the property of Amber and David Dodge.

They had given MacDonald a key to their house and she used it to help herself to $8000 worth of items while nobody was home.

Mrs Dodge told the Manawatu Standard MacDonald's apology was "brave". "What's done is done. Hopefully she'll learn something," Mrs Dodge said.

"For me it was kind of like, OK, I forgive people. There's no point in holding grudges."

Church pastor John Faiz was also forgiving, saying it was one of the church's values.

He was happy with the sentence and said MacDonald facing the church was "courageous".

"As far as I know, she's got her life back on track. That's always the biggest interest," he said. "We're definitely not concerned about the kind of punishment, we just want her to do well."

On November 14, MacDonald used a key to walk into the church and take a cash box with $500 in it.

Later that night she returned.

"[MacDonald] smashed a window by the front door to make it appear the building had been broken into," a police summary says.

On November 27, she walked into a Puriri Tce house, which was unlocked, and took electrical items and a jar of coins.

Her final strike was on Boxing Day when she broke into a Park Rd house and took a $2500 TV.

On January 19, MacDonald contacted police to "try and make things right".

Defence lawyer Mark Alderdice said MacDonald had been paying reparation for missing items and the damage she caused.

She had suffered the "extreme embarrassment and stigma" of going to court.

Judge Gregory Ross said statements from MacDonald's victims showed they had embraced her, but they were also upset at the unlawful entry into their homes. Given her progress, he said it was almost as if "another person altogether" was responsible for the crimes.

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He said others were involved in the burglaries and might have been using MacDonald.

A letter she wrote to the court said she would like to study alcohol and drug counselling and use her experience to help others.

"You have shown most adequate remorsefulness and regret," Judge Ross said. "You are clearly motivated to change and the offending can now be seen as a ‘oncer' so far as your life is concerned."

A reparation order was made for $4690, which MacDonald must pay back at at least $25 a week.

- Manawatu Standard

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