Four months after being arrested for stealing $18,000 worth of art from a Yale greenhouse, Jodonell Powell pleaded not guilty to 27 criminal charges at a plea hearing Wednesday morning.
Wearing jeans, sneakers and a pair of handcuffs, Powell, 54, submitted his plea just a day after being denied the chance to enter a drug-treatment program in place of facing trial. In addition to the art-theft charges, Powell’s other alleged offenses include smaller burglaries on campus and around New Haven, criminal trespass, illegal operation of a motor vehicle, resisting arrest and use of drug paraphernalia.
He is being detained on $180,500 bond, and a pre-trial hearing is set for April 16.
In a letter from Powell to State Superior Court Justice Richard Damiani, Powell requested to be reconsidered for admission into “Drug Court,” an addiction-treatment program that would excuse Powell from answering his charges in court. Tuesday, Damiani denied that request.
“I am admitting that my [life] has become a total wreck,” Powell wrote in the letter. “I [am] opening my mouth and asking for the help I need!”
On Nov. 28 of last year, Powell allegedly stole 10 sculptures by local artist Susan Clinard, which were on display inside the greenhouse of Yale’s Marsh Botanical Gardens. The perpetrator broke into the greenhouse through a window and injured all 10 of the sculptures by dragging them out of the greenhouse. Eight of the sculptures have now been recovered, although four were damaged beyond repair.
Police apprehended Powell for the crime when Richard Ortello, a New Haven delivery man, tipped off the Yale Police Department after seeing a photograph of one of Clinard’s stolen sculptures — worth $3,500 — on the cover of the New Haven Register. He had purchased that same sculpture for $15 the night before, when a stranger approached him at the Shell gas station on Whalley Avenue and offered to sell him Clinard’s art from the back of a shiny white van.
Powell purportedly stole the white Chevy Express cargo van in addition to the sculptures inside, along with a blue F150 pick-up truck.
He was also charged with burglary and larceny for allegedly stealing $500 worth of prayer cubes Dec. 5 from a second-floor prayer room in the Joseph Slifka Center. The day before, according to courtroom records, he stole the backpack of a graduate student working in the Kline Geology Laboratory on Whitney Avenue, although the graduate student recovered the bag from Powell the same night.
According to a police report, shortly after Powell’s arrest, he allegedly dropped his head during an interrogation and said, “I’m going to jail for the rest of my life.”
In a letter to the judge arguing for admittance to drug court, Powell also expressed regret for having destroyed most of Clinard’s artwork and wrote that he was happy Clinard’s sculptures were returned to her in time for a March 21 exhibition she is putting on in France. The sculptures were returned in early January, and Clinard said she barely had enough time to repair the four salvageable pieces and ship them to Menton, in the south of France.
Although Clinard said Wednesday night that she has forgiven Powell and is trying to stay positive, she also said the experience taught her an important lesson about protecting her artwork — none of the sculptures stolen in Marsh Botanic Gardens was insured.
“That is something I will take very seriously from here on out,” Clinard said.
In addition to her sculpture showcase in France — which will stay in Menton until June 30 and then travel to other European cities — Clinard is planning other exhibitions in galleries throughout New Haven. But, she said, she has not yet made plans for another display in Marsh Botanic Gardens.
Eric Larson, manager of Marsh Botanical Gardens, said he will not consider hosting another art show at the gardens until it is able to beef up its security system. Garden administrators, he said, will discuss plans to revamp security on the premises this summer. In the Nov. 28 break-in, there were no alarms or security guards put in place to protect the artwork.