AUGUSTA — James S. Wilbur told a judge on Tuesday that he wanted to be sentenced to five years and one day behind bars for breaking into two city churches earlier this year and stealing cash and other items.

On Thursday, he got his wish.

Wilbur had pleaded guilty to burglarizing South Parish Congregational Church and the Unitarian Universalist Church and stealing items, including cash and a checkbook. The break-ins occurred within hours of one another on Jan. 12, 2016.

Wilbur, 33, a transient who most recently lived at a group home in Litchfield, was arrested a day after the burglaries. He was found on a bus as it was getting onto Interstate 295 in West Gardiner. At the time, Wilbur told police he was responsible for break-ins up and down the East Coast.

He apparently targeted churches and medical offices.

Wilbur told the judge the specific sentence he requested would make it more likely he would be placed at the Maine State Prison in Warren, where he thinks he would have access to programs to help him break a cycle of criminal behavior that he’s followed since about age 16.

“I’ve had a very severe drug addiction since I was a child,” Wilbur said. He said he had tried previously to get treatment for it.

“Honestly, I think I just have been a criminal since 16 years old,” Wilbur told the judge, adding, “I realize how stupid that sounds.”

He said that he’s been trying to resolve his outstanding criminal charges now that he’s been in the prison system.

Wilbur entered the guilty pleas himself after Justice Robert Mullen reluctantly allowed him to dismiss his attorney and represent himself. Mullen also asked a defense attorney in the courtroom to speak to Wilbur as well. Wilbur continued to insist on representing himself and signed a waiver in court to do so Tuesday.

However, Mullen continued the hearing until Thursday so he could get confirmation about a sentence Wilbur is serving for offenses that occurred in Cumberland County. Wilbur asked that his five-year-and-one-day sentence be concurrent with the two-year sentence he received on burglary, theft and forgery convictions there.

On Thursday, Wilbur, wearing a long-sleeved sweatshirt bearing the initials of the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, was brought into the courtroom by a deputy and took the seat normally reserved for defense attorneys. Wilbur then glanced briefly through a file folder thick with paper.

Mullen said he had obtained copies of Wilbur’s convictions and sentences from Cumberland County, which occurred May 5, 2016. Wilbur was represented by an attorney in those cases.

The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Tyler LeClair, said he had contacted officials with the Maine Department of Corrections who told him that a sentence of five years and one day should place Wilbur in Warren.

“I will tell you quite frankly if this was an open plea, I would be giving you a sentence of four years,” Mullen said. However, he added he would go along with the five-year-and-one-day sentence recommended by LeClair and sought by Wilbur. He double-checked Thursday that it was still Wilbur’s wish.

“Mr. Wilbur, I will go ahead and impose the sentence jointly recommended by the parties,” Mullen said. “I take into account your willingness to accept responsibility at arraignment.” He said he was convinced that Wilbur knew what he was doing, telling him, “You’re certainly quite intelligent and articulate.” He added, “I hope you can straighten out. I think you have some things you could offer the world besides stealing.”

Authorities were able to trace Wilbur’s movements after the Rev. Carie Johnsen told them her bank, Kennebec Savings Bank, had called her to report someone had tried to cash a $2,500 check at the bank.

“Rev. Johnsen verified that her checkbook had been taken from her desk as well as her stamp signature,” Augusta police Detective Tori Tracy wrote in a report.

Police went to Kennebec Savings Bank and learned the $2,500 check had been made out to James S. Wilbur. They later learned he had taken a taxi and stayed at a local hotel before boarding the bus.

“The bank also took a photo copy of the male’s Maine ID card,” Tracy wrote. “The card showed a photo of a male with the name of James S. Wilbur of Portland.” The card also included his birth date.

LeClair told the judge there were warrants for Wilbur’s arrest in Florida and Wisconsin, and that Cambridge, Massachusetts, authorities plan to take Wilbur after he finishes in Maine. LeClair also said Wilbur has convictions for forgery in Wisconsin and burglary in Florida and that he served time in federal prison for mail fraud in New York.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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