By COLIN FLANDERS

Matt King’s request to dismiss his petit larceny charge was denied last week by a judge who said the argument for throwing out the case – that King had planned to pay the alleged victims – sounded more like a potential defense at trial.

King pleaded not guilty in January to stealing two boxes of gloves from a local slaughterhouse while on duty as a state meat inspector.

Prior to his decision, Judge Kevin Griffin explained his role in pre-trial dismissal requests is to weigh the evidence in a light “most favorable” to the state and determine if a jury could potentially return a guilty verdict. 

To prove that it could, deputy state’s attorney Susan Hardin entered several pieces of evidence she said showed King indeed stole from the slaughterhouse. Her argument included the testimony of two witnesses: Jean Kleptz, co-owner of Bear Trap Custom Processing in Milton, and Milton detective Nick Hendry.

Hendry testified that he opened the case in early December after Kleptz reported King had stolen from their Cadreact Road slaughterhouse.

King was the primary meat inspector for the operation, which is required to provide an office space for these state employees, Kleptz testified. According to a sworn statement she gave to the Milton Police Dept. (MPD), Kleptz and her husband, John, became suspicious of King after two of their employees visited his deer cutting operation and saw “the exact same supplies” there as at the slaughterhouse.

A few weeks earlier, an employee had noticed a bag of seasoning had gone missing, so the Kleptzes installed a video camera in the operation’s common area. Kleptz testified that less than a week after the camera was set up, her phone notified her of activity at the shop. She then watched a live feed of the alleged crime on Dec. 6.

“I watched Matt take the gloves,” she said, adding, “I was in complete disbelief.”

Prosecutors played two snippets of the video in court. They showed King reach down out of the camera’s view, grab a single box of gloves and head back into his office space, where he measures the box against the opening of his boot. Deciding it won’t fit, he then puts the box against his shoulder, drapes a meat coat over it and walks out of the facility.

Hendry testified that when he visited King’s home in Georgia, King initially denied taking anything from Bear Trap. But when Hendry countered he had proof of the crime, and that he could see the neon green gloves through King’s garage window, King eventually admitted to taking the gloves. He said he intended to pay the Kleptzes.

King’s attorney, Paul Jarvis, reiterated this story in his dismissal request. Jarvis said the owners had previously sold King items through a process in which he let them know he had taken items and they invoiced him, and so this time would have been no different.

Kleptz testified there was no such arrangement. She said King didn’t maintain a charge account with their business and the only time her husband sold him a product was when he asked if they had a specific type of meat seasoning in stock – the same seasoning whose disappearance first prompted their suspicions that someone was stealing.   

Kleptz confirmed that the state provides the same types of gloves to King for free, and when asked by prosecutors why she thought King might steal gloves he already receives, she didn’t have an answer.

“I don’t know why he didn’t steal from his employer instead of me,” she said.

Both attorneys estimated the boxes of gloves cost about $20. Explaining why the state would pursue a charge over that relatively small dollar amount, Hardin noted it’s not the first time King has had a run-in with the law.

Indeed, his citation for the petit larceny charge in December came two weeks before he pleaded guilty to embezzling over $10,000 from the Milton Broncos youth football program. In that case, he received a yearlong probation that will be expunged from his record if he abides by the conditions.

“The state is adamant he take responsibility for this particular case,” Hardin said.

As for whether King actually intended to pay for the gloves – and whether that absolves him from wrongdoing – judge Griffin deferred judgment. “It would be up to a jury to decide whether that was believable or not,” he said.

Griffin set a final status hearing for the end of this month and scheduled a jury draw for April 1.