"Lucky 13" sure isn't a rabbit's foot for career criminal Steve Barry McFarland - not when it comes to stealing prime beef with a cop watching.
His former girlfriend wasn't lucky herself late last week in a Lancaster courtroom, when she tried to take the blame herself.
McFarland went to prison for nine years for stealing $220.71 worth of meat, cheese and two bags of pecans from the Lancaster Walmart - his 13th property crime conviction - and Cynthia McLean Gaston got locked up for admitting to helping in the crime - while testifying for McFarland on the witness stand.
A jury needed just 15 minutes to convict McFarland last week in Lancaster County Criminal Court even after Gaston claimed in sworn testimony that she was the one who stole the food a couple days before Thanksgiving with an aim to sell the meat, prosecutors say.
Yet Wednesday, a day McFarland did not show up for his own trial and the trial started without him - Lancaster police officer Rickey Funderburk had already testified he saw a woman pushing meat into McFarland's jacket, that he chased a fleeing McFarland out the door as McFarland threw meat from his clothes, then used his stun gun on McFarland and arrested him.
In McFarland's pocket that day, Funderburk found what criminals and the cops who chase them call an "equalizer" - a column of pennies wrapped in electrical tape, often used by thieves to thump a victim over the head.
Still, Gaston took the stand Thursday and told the jury she was the thief, not McFarland, said Trey Cook, the prosecutor in the case.
"But we had the officer who was involved in court, too, and he saw the whole thing right there in the store," Cook said. "The officer chased him out. He tasered him. He handcuffed him. He had the guy and the meat.
"Beef - even though it was Thanksgiving time, no turkeys. Might be tough to hide turkeys."
McFarland must be used to handcuffs by now: He has been charged with crimes 64 times in the past 30 years - crimes ranging from possessing an open container of alcohol to assault.
McFarland, 47, who had lived in Great Falls in southeastern Chester County, has a conviction record that dates back more than 25 years - with a last shoplifting arrest in September in Columbia, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
McFarland most recently was sentenced to two years in prison after a Lancaster County shoplifting conviction from a 2006 incident. Any charge after a third arrest is a felony that carries up to 10 years.
And before she showed up in court last week, the accomplice from the Walmart shoplifting was never caught.
That's when Gaston, whom Cook said was the former girlfriend of McFarland until the two broke up after McFarland's arrest, showed up in court and took the witness stand. Judge Paul Burch of Chesterfield County - a former police officer in Pageland - allowed the testimony, then ordered that Gaston be arrested on the spot by Lancaster police for confessing to the crime.
Gaston, 39, of 2886 Lyle Road in Chester, who also has been convicted on drug and other charges, was released from jail Friday on charges of shoplifting and resisting arrest after posting a $4,250 bond, according to Lancaster jail officials. Her next court date is Aug. 25. No telephone listing was available Monday for either Gaston's name or home address.
After the jury came back with the guilty verdict in less time than it takes to cook the rib roast taken in the Walmart shoplifting, Judge Burch told McFarland about the continual cost to society of repeated thefts and sentenced him to nine years - plus a concurrent 90 days for contempt of court for not showing up Wednesday at the beginning of the trial.
Cook, the prosecutor, said he had offered McFarland a plea bargain with two years prison time before the trial but McFarland balked and demanded a trial - which is McFarland's right under the law. His 13th conviction brought Judge Burch's nine-year hammer.
McFarland's lawyer, Mark Grier of the Lancaster County Public Defender's Office, said McFarland had always pleaded guilty before in all his cases, yet maintained his innocence in the case last week.
Video of the crime was not available, Grier said, and his client had maintained it would exonerate him. McFarland asked Gaston to testify and she did, Grier said, even though Grier explained to her, after urging from McFarland, that the testimony could expose her to legal consequences of her own.
Gaston testified that she was waiting for money via Western Union, but that office in the Walmart was closed, Grier said, forcing her into a "desperate" act of taking the food and stuffing it into McFarland's clothes.
"It was extraordinary that she would come in and do it," Grier said of Gaston's testifying.
The conviction and sentence was immediately appealed, Grier said.
Doug Barfield, the Sixth Circuit solicitor in charge of prosecution for Chester, Lancaster and Fairfield counties, said this case is an example of how the courts - which already have limited trial time - get "gummed up" with these type of crimes by habitual defendants who demand a trial.
Then the defendant doesn't show up initially. But people who steal again and again are going to go to jail again and again, Barfield said.
"There is no doubt that continual stealing costs the business, the community, and now the taxpayer with the jail time," Barfield said. "But this guy did not stop stealing.
"Well, he's gonna stop stealing now."