Saturday, April 20, 2002

To catch a thief


He's blind, but Kent's not stupid

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        Kent Parker doesn't think he'd make a good witness.

        He's blind.

        But just listen to him describe the low-life creep who stuck him twice with a $1 bill but asked for — and got — change for a $20.

        “He was over 6 feet tall,” Kent said as he stood near the cash register of the deli he owns inside the Hamilton County Courthouse.

        Mario Riep, the alleged thief, stands 6 feet, 1 inch tall at Hamilton County's Queensgate lockup.

        “I can tell how tall someone is by where their voice is coming from,” Kent told me. “I'm pretty good at it.”

        To prove his point, he turned my way and said, “You're 5-11.” He's right.

Kent Parker
Kent Parker
        “I could also tell the bills weren't 20s,” he added. “Just by their feel.”

        Ones get more use. They feel soft. A 20 remains crisp.

        Kent felt his customer was up to something.

        “When they're trying to pull something over on you, their voice gets higher. They speak in short sentences. They giggle. They're nervous.

        “As soon as they think they've gotten away with it — I'm taking the bill and starting to pull out change — they come up with all kinds of polite thank-yous.”

        Today marks the one-month anniversary of Kent getting ripped off. I stopped by his ground-floor deli to see how he was holding up. Is he soured on human nature? Or, does he still have faith in humanity? After all, robbing a blind man is pretty low.

        “I hear that from a lot of people who come in here,” Kent said.

        “My customers are my friends. They look out for me.

        “But, I'm not naive enough to think that everybody who comes in here is going to be honest.”

        Since buying the deli in 1999, he's had customers cheat him like this “about eight times a year.”

        That's how he's been able to study their tone of voice. That's how he was able to alert authorities when he heard the accused man in his shop for a second time.

        Mario Riep had a reason for being in the courthouse. He was performing court-ordered community service shuttling documents between courtrooms.

        Apparently, the work made him thirsty. He went into the deli to buy an orange drink. He allegedly gave Kent a $1, but told him it was a 20. Not once but twice.

        The courthouse is a terrible place to commit a crime. It's a known hangout for cops and sheriff's deputies.

        Kent does community service, too. He holds down a job. He works long hours. He obeys the law. He doesn't rob blind men. He serves the community by being a good citizen.

        He has also had worse happen to him.

        “In 1991 or '92 — I've blanked it out of my memory because it was so horrible — I lost my sight and my job. And my wife left me and took our child with her. All within a matter of months.”

        So, in the scheme of things, being passed a one and told it's a 20 is not the end of the world.

        Kent takes an equally balanced view toward the accused thief.

        If convicted, Mario Riep could receive a one-year jail term for each of the two counts he faces.

        “I wouldn't mind seeing him do a week behind bars,” Kent said.

        “Something that's long enough to teach him a lesson.”

        A week seems like a light sentence. Two years? A bit extreme.

        Let's split the difference.

        If the accused is found guilty, he should be sentenced to community service for a year.

        Make him scrub the floor at Kent's deli.

        With his eyes shut.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.

       



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