Harris forges marriage certificate

Published 10:56 am Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Crystal Harris

A Chester woman was put on probation in Lunenburg County for falsifying a marriage certificate with a fake pastor’s name and signature in order to be married to an inmate in prison.

Crystal Jerre Harris, 34, a Chester woman, was put on probation recently in Lunenburg Circuit Court for a year with a chance to avoid a felony conviction, a release from Lunenburg County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office cited. According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Clement, the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office received a completed and signed marriage certificate for the defendant and her alleged husband, a 39-year-old inmate at Lunenburg Correctional Center May 12, 2017.

Suspecting something amiss, Circuit Court Clerk Gordon Erby contacted the Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the matter. Investigator Gail Berkleydetermined from staff at the local prison that a wedding had been scheduled to take place at the prison on April 12, 2017, between the defendant and the inmate, formerly of Richmond.

“However, the wedding was canceled when the officiant was unable to attend,” the release cited. “The inmate also confirmed that the ceremony never took place.”

The prison reportedly has weddings once per month, but it takes a couple of months to reschedule. Staff member reported that the prison records showed no wedding was rescheduled for Harris and the inmate and never took place.

“In fact, Harris never reported to the correctional center on April 12, 2017, at all,” the release noted. “Also, the prison checked its pre-approved list of officiants, and determined that there was no ‘James Wallace’ listed, which was the name and signature on the marriage certificate.”

Harris was contacted by Berkley, and Harris reportedly insisted that she and the inmate got married at the prison on April 12, 2017.

When Berkley told Harris that the prison reported that the ceremony never took place, Harris said she did not know why the prison made that claim.

Harris agreed to meet with the investigator and the Circuit Court Clerk on Aug. 14 but did not show up. She called to say that she ran out of gas and would try to get there, but failed to do so. She asked Berkley what was wrong and was told that the signature of the pastor was a forgery. “Harris’s story then changed to say that a prison counselor told her that she had 30 days to get the certificate signed,” the release cited. “She said a friend of her ‘husband’ told her of a minister who met her at a gas station, paying him $100 to sign the certificate and mail it to the clerk. She said she did not know his name and could not get in touch with him. She still insisted she was married to the inmate. When asked why she thought that when she did not have a ceremony, she just said she thought she had 30 days to just get the certificate signed.”

At the June 26, 2018, trial, Harris pleaded guilty and stipulated that the evidence was sufficient to find her guilty to felony charges of forgery of a public document and uttering a forged document which carry up to 10 years maximum on each charge.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney, with the court’s acceptance, offered that the charges be deferred for a year with certain conditions, according to the release. If Harris complied with the conditions, the charges will be dismissed. If not, she would be convicted of the felonies and sentenced by the judge.

“The defendant will be subject to conditions of good behavior for one year, performing 100 hours of community service, drug screening and assessment and treatment if recommended, warrantless searches, and providing a letter of apology to the Lunenburg Correctional Center, the Lunenburg Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, and the Lunenburg Sheriff’s Office for causing such an inconvenience and manpower for all of them,” the release cited.

The defendant’s only prior criminal offense was a 2003 misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana, which was amended to possession of controlled paraphernalia for which she received a 30-day suspended sentence.

Her sentencing guidelines recommended probation with no incarceration.