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Jail time ordered for man who stole from deceased rancher

Case began in June 2017 after numerous items stolen from estate.

A Woodward, Texas, man will spend five years in prison after pleading no contest to four felony charges. The charges and subsequent jail time are the result of an investigation led by Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Assn. (TSCRA) special ranger Ben Eggleston.

The case began in June 2017 when a then-unknown suspect or suspects burglarized the estate of the late Donnie Johnson in Ellis County, Texas. Numerous items were reported stolen from the ranch and residence, prompting an investigation by the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office and TSCRA special rangers. A reward was issued through Operation Cow Thief, an antitheft initiative led by TSCRA, for information leading to the arrest of a suspect or recovery of the stolen property.

Not long after the reward was posted, Eggleston was contacted by an informant with a possible lead on a suspect and the whereabouts of a pickup truck and gooseneck stock trailer stolen from the estate. As a result, the stolen vehicle and trailer were recovered, and William Eugene Smith was identified as the prime suspect. The investigation yielded additional stolen items, and Smith was arrested by Eggleston and Ellis County Undersheriff Monty Martin on Aug. 18, 2017. Smith was booked into the Ellis County Jail, where he remained pending trial.

On June 21, 2018, Smith entered a plea of no contest on the four charges that stemmed from the investigation: one count of felony unauthorized use of a vehicle, and three counts of felony grand larceny. He was sentenced to 15 years in state prison on each count. The sentences are to run concurrently, with all but the first five years to be suspended.

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