DULUTH, Minn. — A 76-year-old Grand Rapids man has changed his plea to guilty in connection to the theft of a pair of ruby slippers from the classic 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz."
Terry Martin, 76, appeared in a Duluth federal courtroom on Friday. He is charged with one count of major artwork theft, accused of stealing the iconic shoes from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids back in 2005.
Martin previously pleaded not guilty to the charge in June. His trial, which was scheduled to start this week, was delayed.
Martin's Admissions In Court
In court Friday, Martin admitted he used a small sledgehammer to break into the museum. He then used the tool to crack the case the slippers were in and take them. He said he didn't hear any alarm. He took off in his car and kept them in a trailer adjacent to his home.
In 2005, he brought them to a "jewelry fence," who is a criminal who buys and resells stolen goods. The fence informed him that the jewels were actually made of glass, and not real rubies. Martin said at some point, he gave the shoes to someone else, and it's not clear if it was the fence or someone else. He says he had no contact with them after that.
Martin is being represented by a public defender and had been released prior to the trial with conditions.
As part of the plea, both sides agreed to a sentence of time served given Martin's health — he is in hospice for advanced COPD.
The judge will decide at sentencing if he will go along with the plea agreement or give another sentence. That should happen in the next few months.
"I Think He's Lived A Fast And Loose Life"
Criminal defense attorney Dane DeKrey, who is not connected to this case, told WCCO he suspects Martin's declining health played a major factor in his decision to change his plea.
"I think when someone is at the end of their life, they are making decisions that are right for their affairs, and this short answer is because he's guilty," DeKrey said. "I think he wanted to take responsibility and move on with his life — the little life he has left."
Martin refused to identify the fence or any other possible accomplices.
"I think he's lived a fast and loose life and I think he's OK with what's happening now," DeKrey said. "I think he's at peace with it, frankly."
"An American Treasure, A National Treasure"
The shoes, owned by collector Michael Shaw, were on loan to the Judy Garland Museum when they were stolen. They were recovered and returned to Shaw following a 2018 FBI sting operation. Shaw told investigators at the time that the slippers were as "pristine" as they were before the theft.
Researchers at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., where one of four existing pairs is on display, were able to help the FBI authenticate them. The pair was insured for $1 million, but may now be worth more than three times that amount.
WCCO spoke Friday with John Kelsch, curator of the Judy Garland Museum.
"There's some closure, and we do know definitely that Terry Jon Martin did break into our museum, but I'd like to know what happened to them after he let them go," Kelsch said. "Just to do it because he thought they were real rubies and to turn them over to a jewelry fence. I mean, the value is not rubies. The value is an American treasure, a national treasure. To steal them without knowing that seems ludicrous."
Garland, born Frances Ethel Gumm in Minnesota in 1922, was just 16 when she wore the slippers for her role as Dorothy Gale in "Oz." She spent the first four years of her life in Grand Rapids before her vaudevillian family moved to southern California.
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