Not guilty: Curry prof didn't steal Prada bag
UVA Professor Glen Bull was found not guilty of stealing a woman's Prada bag from the Commonwealth Skybar last summer under circumstances the judge called "very, very suspicious," and even Bull couldn't explain why he didn't tell the bartender he'd found what he thought was a forgotten bag, rather than take it out of the restaurant.
"When this happened, he thought he was going to be a hero," said Bull's attorney, Fran Lawrence. The Curry prof had forgotten his own book satchel a few months earlier in Blue Moon Diner and had had it returned. Said Lawrence, "He himself had been grateful. He never intended to steal the bag."
"There's no rational explanation of why he took it," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Elizabeth Killeen.
The June 3 nearly two-hour trial in Charlottesville General District Court came nearly a year after Bull was charged with grand larceny for the alleged purse heist at Skybar. In March, the commonwealth reduced the charge from a felony to petit larceny because the owner of the silver-and-green Prada tote bag and its contents— a MacBook Air, a cream Prada wallet containing $100, debit and credit cards, and a scarf— was out of the country and not able to testify to its value, according to Killeen. Grand larceny kicks in when the value is greater than $200.
The prosecutor showed three security tapes from Skybar. The first depicts Bull being given a seat at the end of the bar. The alleged victim, who is sitting to Bull's left, is talking to a man on her left, and there appears to be an empty space between the two. Bull drinks a beer, then gets up and walks away with the bag, which was hanging on a hook between him and the woman, according to testimony.
A second tape shows Bull sitting on a sofa in the Skybar, still with the bag, and the third tape shows him heading down the stairs and out the door.
Charlottesville Police Officer R.W. Cole was called to investigate July 18, the night the bag went missing, and the bartender gave him a receipt with Bull's name on it. Cole said he called Bull and asked him if he had the purse. "He said, 'No, what are you talking about?'" testified Cole.
Bull, 66, said he was in the Skybar around 10pm, looking for a friend who worked there when his leg hit the bag under the bar. Remembering his own lost book bag, he testified, he took it with him when he left, put it in the trunk of the car, and went home and took a nap. "I was planning to return it to the owner," he said.
When Cole called, Bull said, he initially didn't realize the bag was a purse. And he said he never opened the bag. He took it down to the police station that night, and said he saw the woman to whom it belonged. "The woman indicated she didn't want to press charges," Bull told the judge.
As for why Bull didn't just ask her when she was sitting nearby in the Skybar whether the bag was hers, said Bull, "At the time it never entered my mind. It did cross my mind briefly I should get the bartender's attention."
And he related that Officer Cole asked him a number of times if his judgment was bad. "I agree in 20/20 hindsight," said Bull, "my judgment was bad."
The professor, who has been at UVA for 38 years and is a national figure in digital technology in education, called in four prominent local ed figures, including Bob Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education, and Rosa Atkins, superintendent of Charlottesville schools, to vouch for his honesty.
"Everything on the tape corroborates his lack of stealth and lack of intent to steal," said Lawrence in his closing.
"It doesn't seem reasonable not to check at the bar," countered Killeen. "It's just common sense to ask."
"Would a normal person ask, 'Is this your purse?'," queried Judge Bob Downer. "I think they would."
However, he added that he didn't see anything furtive and he believed testimony about Bull losing his own bag at Blue Moon. And he noted that purse snatchers usually don't drive home and leave the bag in the trunk.
"The circumstances are very, very suspicious," said Downer. "But not beyond a reasonable doubt that he meant to steal from her."
Bull looked "almost like a lost soul that night," said Downer, and he found the professor not guilty.
"The judge made the right decision," said Lawrence outside the courthouse. He said that Bull voluntarily had taken a polygraph that showed he was telling the truth— although that was not admissible.
"For me," said Lawrence, "It would be like taking a nut out of Tractor Supply to see if it fit my truck and realizing, I didn't pay for it."Read more on: glen bull