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Courtroom decorum flew out the window as dozens of media outlets descended on Bucks County, Pa., Court last week to cover the trial of a Yardley, Pa., man charged with criminal mischief after he was caught on a grocery store surveillance video squeezing and poking loaves of bread. As unusual as the evidence was, the ending of the trial was even more bizarre, as the jury delivered a confusing verdict that was later tossed out by Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge David Heckler. The defendant, Samuel Feldman, 37, now faces up to six months’ probation when he is sentenced later this year. Heckler found Feldman guilty of two summary charges of criminal mischief. He ordered Feldman, who recently moved to Las Vegas from Yardley, to seek help from a mental health professional who is familiar with baked goods-squeezing fetishes. Feldman, an advertising executive, was arrested in January after a store detective caught him in the act of poking holes in loaves of bread at the Giant food store on Stony Hill Road in Lower Makefield Township, Pa. Complaints from bread and cookie vendors prompted the store to install hidden cameras to catch the person responsible for a three-year, baked-goods-damaging spree. According to independent distributors of Archway cookies and Freihofers bread, more than $8,000 in products had been poked and squeezed, making them unfit for sale. Among the baked goods involved were 175 bags of bagels, 227 bags of potato dinner rolls, and 3,087 bags of sliced bread. On four separate dates, Feldman was caught on camera mangling loaves of bread. Another camera, installed over the Archway display, recorded him pressing his thumb into jam-filled fruit cookies. Feldman denied the charges, and the case went to trial last week. Following three days of testimony — including a demonstration on bread-squeezing by the Freihofers vendor, two videos of Feldman’s actions in the grocery store and peals of laughter from members of the media in the audience — the jury deliberated for nearly six hours, returning a verdict at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday. The jurors found Feldman not guilty on the criminal mischief charge involving bread, but guilty of criminal mischief involving cookies. However, the jury told Heckler, it wanted to find that the pecuniary losses in cookies did not exceed $500. Heckler left the courtroom to speak to the jury, then returned with his own verdict. The judge found Feldman guilty on two summary charges of criminal mischief, the equivalent, he explained to the confused audience, of a traffic ticket. Heckler later further explained his action, saying the jurors had expressed to him that they thought Feldman did ruin both bread and cookies, but they could not unanimously agree that the product damage amounted to $8,000. Since Feldman was charged with both misdemeanor and summary counts of criminal mischief, the judge found Feldman guilty on the summary counts. Only a judge can rule on summary charges, which are usually heard in district court. Juries hear misdemeanors and felonies. In most criminal cases, the commonwealth dismisses summary counts when a jury hears the more serious charges. “Although it is usually not my practice to go against a jury, from my own recollection of the videotapes I am satisfied that this is the appropriate action to take, and I find Mr. Feldman guilty of both offenses,” Heckler said. Prosecutor Ted Fritsch and defense attorney Ellis Klein said after the trial that, although Heckler’s ruling was unusual, it was appropriate. “The jury found that criminal mischief did occur. They just did not agree that it rose to a level above $500. The judge made a legal determination,” said Fritsch, county chief of prosecution. Klein, an associate at the Bensalem, Pa., firm of Paul H. Young Associates, agreed. “The commonwealth did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. We respect the judge’s decision and will do everything in our power to abide by his wishes,” Klein said. Heckler commented after the trial that Feldman could have avoided the media “feeding frenzy” that surrounded the case if he had confessed to the squeezing immediately. Heckler was visibly annoyed at the behavior of the crowd of reporters who came to cover the case each day, warning the group on several occasions that he would clear the courtroom if they didn’t stop snickering. At one point, the distraction of television personalities coming and going from the room became too great, and Heckler ordered the courtroom locked during certain testimony. Outside, television and radio personalities gave updates on the trial, and a mock protest by high school students waving slices of bread broke out. Klein, a former Bucks assistant DA who was arguing his first jury trial, said his client would have preferred to avoid the publicity the trial generated, but prosecutors would not accept a “reasonable” offer of restitution. His client was offered a spot in the county’s accelerated rehabilitative disposition program, in which a defendant’s record is expunged after a period on non-reporting probation, in exchange for paying back the $8,000 in bread and cookies, plus an estimated $7,000 in investigation costs. The ARD program is for first-time, non-violent offenders. “We would have loved to avoid a trial, but the DA didn’t want to accept our offer,” Klein said. Fritsch disagreed with Klein’s take on the case. “Some things can only be settled in a court of law,” he said. Under Heckler’s ruling, Feldman can be sentenced to pay up to $1,000 — $500 each to the cookie and bread vendors. Archway cookie distributors Betty and Bob Krauss said they plan to go after the cookie crusher to get the rest of their cash by filing a lawsuit. The couple said last Friday that they had hired an attorney who will draw up the suit later this year. Feldman issued a statement after the trial saying he and his wife, Sharon, were looking forward to returning to Las Vegas to resume a normal life. He refused to answer questions as he left the courthouse.

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