But if anyone is capable of bouncing back from such a nightmare scenario, it might be John Leo Uggerud, according to the defense attorney who worked on his case.
Uggerud, 50, was arrested Sept. 21, 2009, and indicted on two counts of felony theft. He stood accused of stealing appliances from his employer, a Terrell Mill Road apartment complex, where he served as maintenance manager.
A jury found him innocent of all charges in mid-January.
But that was only after Uggerud was fired from his job on the day of his arrest and was virtually unemployable for the more than three years that it took to get his case through the court system. Today he works for himself, fixing up rental homes in Marietta. He spends his free time looking for a new job.
“I was watching the jury during the whole trial, and when they came out to read the verdict, they were not smiling,” Uggerud said. “It didn’t look good for me, but when I heard ‘not guilty,’ I felt relieved.”
His attorney, Marietta’s Ben Smith, said he knew pretty much all along his client was not only innocent but would bounce back from the allegations.
“He’s a cat, and he’ll land on his feet,” Smith said. “He has a big heart and is willing to work.”
The charges came about while Uggerud was working at the apartment complex in east Cobb.
At that time, he had worked full time for the property owner for 24 years.
Uggerud said the company’s appliance stock was piling up while they were waiting on maintenance personnel to install them into new units, so he volunteered to store them at his personal garage off site from the complex.
“The apartment complex manager (at that time) said they needed to lease the garages where the appliances were stored on the property, so I volunteered to move them on my property,” Uggerud said.
There was no record of wrongdoing on Uggerud’s part. The appliances were still wrapped in their boxes with the proper labels showing they belonged to the apartment company.
He also never tried to sell the appliances or hide their whereabouts, and he said the apartment property’s manager was aware of the move.
“I was told to move them or I would get fired,” he said.
Between April 2007 and Uggerud’s arrest in the fall of 2009, he would move appliances, store them and install them as needed.
The appliances were discovered by police when they were questioning him about multiple thefts involving twin brothers from Mableton who rented a house from him on the same property where he stored the appliances.
Uggerud was falsely accused of stealing after an apartment complex manager denied knowing anything about the stored appliances.
He said management at the complex had changed so many times that apparently they weren’t up to date on the situation.
The other co-defendants charged in Uggerud’s case were found guilty of two counts of burglary and four counts of theft by taking and sentenced to 20 and 30 years, respectively, in January.
Hashim Ali Hamlett and Salim Fakih Hamlett, the 38-year-old twin brothers, were accused of thefts unrelated to Uggerud’s charges, stealing appliances from foreclosed homes throughout Cobb and selling them on Craigslist.
Smith said this clumping of defendants is what made it worse for his client when they went to trial.
“I feel like it was abuse of state power,” he said. “What the (prosecutor) did was indict this man with no criminal history on the same indictment as two men who had a criminal history.”
He said the length of time it took to bring the case to trial was another issue.
“(John’s) life has been in jeopardy for more than three years,” Smith said.
The indictment was returned Dec. 1, 2011, and the jury trial began Jan. 7, 2013, and ran through Jan. 17.
Smith said the state tried to offer Uggerud a plea deal, including one year in jail and 10 months probation.
“They were asking John to give them evidence against the two brothers,” he said. “They said things would go very well for him if he did.”
Uggerud declined the deal. He was facing 20 years in prison if found guilty, Smith said.
“He said he wanted to, but he couldn’t say anything against these guys because he didn’t know anything,” Smith said. “I always try to believe my clients, but when he said that, that’s when I knew he was truly a good person.”
A lot of clients may not be willing to fight for their innocence like that, but Smith said Uggerud did.
“He stood the test of time … we were blessed to have a jury that listened,” he said.