WILLMAR -- A Kandiyohi County jury on Thursday convicted Thomas Albert Wagar, 25, of Minneapolis, of a misdemeanor charge of receiving stolen property for possessing military-issue night vision goggles. The goggles were used by his father during a Sept. 16, 2008, homecoming incident that included spraying teens with a squirt gun filled with water and fox urine.
Wagar was originally charged with a felony. However, the jury placed a value of less than $500 on the goggles, in effect reducing the verdict to a misdemeanor.
Brad Kluver, Wagar's attorney, said after the verdict that he, of course, was hoping for a not guilty verdict. He noted a misdemeanor was better than a felony conviction because "a felony can be devastating to participating in life."
He had told the jury earlier in the day that his client was attending community college and hoping to attend the University of Minnesota to study engineering.
The jury, eight men and four women, returned the verdict around 5:30 p.m. in Kandiyohi County District Court after a one-day trial before Judge David L. Mennis. The jury began deliberating around 4:15 p.m.
Mennis ordered a presentence investigation. No sentencing date was set.
Wagar and his father, Scott Edward Wagar, 51, of Willmar, were both charged in January with felony counts for possessing the goggles. All of the charges connected to the homecoming incident -- including misdemeanors for fifth-degree assault, disorderly conduct and theft -- against Scott Wagar were dismissed in March.
Thomas Wagar, who served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, was the last witness to take the stand Thursday and testified that he found the goggles on top of a barrier after he had returned on a convoy mission. He said he brought them to the Camp Fallujah dispatch shack and asked if anyone had reported them missing. "It was decided that I should hold onto them until someone claimed them," he said.
Wagar shipped out of Iraq about three months later, still with the goggles in his possession. He passed through military customs in Kuwait, where all of his possessions and gear were examined. The person examining his gear did not take the goggles, he said, so he packed them back into his gear and eventually gave them to his father as a gift. He later turned them over to Department of Defense investigators, who had been notified about the goggles by the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office.
Cpl. David Nester of the Sheriff's Office testified that Scott Wagar showed him the goggles on Sept. 17, alleging that they were damaged during the homecoming incident the night before at Wagar's home east of Willmar. The incident included an altercation between Wagar and another person, who was among a group of young people who had come to his property. Wagar had sprayed the group with a squirt gun filled with water and fox urine. They, in turn, had thrown eggs and toilet paper on his property.
Special Agent Kevin Gjertsen, a Department of Defense investigator based in St. Paul, testified that he used a serial number on a part inside the goggles to determine when they were made and by which military contractor and used that information to locate documents showing that the goggles were shipped to a Marine base in Iraq in February 2004. They were part of a lot with 642 pairs of goggles. The report also stated the government paid $2,850 per pair.
Gjertsen also testified that Thomas Wagar told him he'd bought the goggles for $100 from a man in the Southdale Mall parking lot in the Twin Cities when he was first questioned about how he came into possession of the goggles. Gjertsen said he admonished Wagar to tell him the truth after suspecting the story was not true. "He didn't change his story quickly," Gjertsen said. "He apologized" and then told the investigator about finding them in Iraq.
During his testimony, Wagar said he told Gjertsen and fellow Department of Defense investigator Gregory Hedtke that story because he was "startled" and caught off guard that the investigators had come to his home.
James Craven, of Chicago, testified that he was in the dispatch shack when Thomas Wagar came in and asked if the goggles were reported missing. He also said that he reported the incident to his commanding officer, who agreed that Wagar should hold the goggles until someone requested them.