The man accused of vandalizing Hatchett Cemetery will be spending the holidays reunited with his family after spending more than three weeks in the Limestone County Jail.
Robert Allen Muse, 21, of Falkville, was released from custody Dec. 19, and was ordered by Limestone County District Judge Jerry Batts to refrain from returning to the county unless he has a court appearance or a meeting with his court-appointed attorney, Garry Clem of Athens.
Additionally, Muse is required to follow an 8 p.m. curfew and turn over possession of his Kawasaki motorcycle to his father, pending the outcome of his case.
Clem successfully petitioned Batts to lower Muse’s bail from a $150,000 cash only bail to a $75,000 secure bail based on his client’s age, a low flight risk, the lack of a prior criminal record and the absence of violence in the alleged commission of the offense.
Muse was arrested Nov. 26 at the rural Morgan County home he shares with his parents. He is charged with three counts of first-degree criminal mischief after the cemetery was vandalized in three successive weeks in November.
Each charge is a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
During the Dec. 19 bail-reduction hearing, Clem said his client was kept in “solitary confinement” at the jail and was unwilling to fill out the necessary paperwork to receive any visitors during his 23-day stint in custody, including his mother and father.
“I’d say his health is good and his reputation is great, and there hasn’t been proof otherwise,” Clem said during the hearing in response to an inquiry by Batts.
His parents appeared as character witnesses during the hearing, and they agreed to immediately report a curfew violation. If any of the bail stipulations are violated, Muse’s bail would immediately be revoked.
District Attorney Brian Jones said his office expected the bail to be lowered, but he was satisfied with the bail stipulations.
“It is extremely common that once that initial (bail) is set and after the case is reviewed and the lawyers have reviewed,” Jones said. “Judge Batts made it very clear if someone doesn’t follow his instructions, he will revoke his bond.”
Jones said Muse’s motorcycle has a high amount of mileage accumulated within a short period of time.
“In a period of six months, he put in excess of 20,000 miles on (his) motorcycle, and we’re trying to ascertain where he was going … his parents did not know how far he had been until he had a wreck in Pulaski, Tenn.,” Jones said. “We didn’t want him riding the motorcycle up here and we’re perfectly satisfied it was turned over to his father.”
Multiple attempts to reach Clem for further comment were unsuccessful.
Jones said the next step is a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough probable cause to continue the case. He said he will take the case before a grand jury regardless of the outcome of the hearing.
A date has not been set for Muse’s next court appearance. Circuit Court Clerk Charles Page expects the next hearing to be scheduled late January or early February.
Law-enforcement officials have not disclosed a connection, if any exists, between Muse, Hatchett Cemetery or Little Ezekiel Missionary Baptist Church, which maintains the rural cemetery.
Muse has not spoken with Sheriff’s Office investigators or made any public comments regarding the details of the case.
“We knew (the bail) was going to be lower and we had actually anticipated it being lower than it was,” said Thomas Townsend, a Little Ezekiel deacon. “We’re very pleased with the stipulations, and I believe he’s going to get out and he’s going to violate his parole.”
The case is still under investigation by the Sheriff’s Office, but no other suspects have been arrested. Church officials have said there is no apparent connection with Muse.
Cost of damages
Approximately $17,000 in damages was caused to the cemetery, which was vandalized on Nov. 8, 15 and 23, based on a survey from Ardmore Monument Company.
Ardmore Monument was commissioned to replace eight of the 200 marked gravestones, many of which were chipped, smashed, scratched or uprooted. The cemetery is located along Bridgeforth Road in the Beulah Land community in southern Limestone County.
Little Ezekiel, with the assistance of donations from individuals and other churches, has pledged to completely restore the cemetery.
The church, which has about 200 members, has held four community workdays, including ones that preceded the second and third acts of vandalism.
The cemetery repairs are nearly complete, but the church is still deciding how to handle grave markers that didn’t receive enough damage to be replaced but remain scratched or chipped.