Despite change in lifestyle, man must make amends in prison

LISBON – The 54-year-old Irondale man who was involved in an April bomb threat at the Calcutta Walmart and other attempts to steal from the store will spend the next 18 months in prison instead of finishing a program with a religious counseling group.

John S. Hester, Sixteen School Road, Irondale, was accused of exiting the Calcutta Walmart without paying for eight items of merchandise, which were valued at $365, by shoving his way past a store security officer, who was attempting to stop him and fleeing the area in a Ford van. That robbery offense was on April 1.

A little more than a week later, Hester reportedly placed a Harley Davidson bandanna wrapped in black electrical tape and duct tape inside the same Walmart. When it was discovered by employees, the object appeared to be an explosive device, which led to the temporary closure and evacuation of the store on the morning of April 9.

Hester’s defense attorney, Richard Hura, read several letters from people involved in the Team Challenge program, a Christian counseling group for men with alcohol or drug problems. Additionally, Hura read a letter from Hester’s brother and another from a former co-worker.

A resounding theme in the letters was about Hester’s involvement with the Team Challenge program. While several admitted Hester has struggled in the past with alcoholism, it was also noted during one period of his life he had stayed sober for about 16 or 17 years, raised children, but lost his relationship. Hester himself said he was probably working too much during that time.

“He went from being an alcoholic to a workaholic,” said his brother, George Thrasher, who appeared on his behalf.

“In August 2007, our mother died,” said Bill Hester, another brother whose letter was read in the courtroom, “and he was shattered. He made some bad decisions.”

Since his arrest in April, Hester reportedly has been a good student at the Team Challenge program with several of the letters speaking of him now dedicating his life to God and realizing he has done bad things.

Hura said the idea is for Hester to become a better citizen in the future and he believed the best way to protect society from Hester is to give him the tools he needs to handle his problems. For that reason, Hura had requested Judge Scott Washam consider allowing Hester to first complete his program at Team Challenge before any jail time.

“I can be an example to this community as to how God changes people,” Hester said prior to sentencing. “I got arrested in April … and I cried out for God to help me … I have peace and I care about people and this community did not deserve what I did to them.”

Hester pointed out his concerns about the health of those people who could not get their prescriptions filled while the Walmart was closed due to the bomb threat.

The judge showed emotion to Hester’s appeal, handing down the 18-month sentence to begin immediately.