Nicki Warner

PROVO — A woman who started a yearlong crime spree by stealing checks from her dead sister-in-law's account to buy corn from a roadside stand was sent to prison Thursday.

Nicki Warner, 38, was sentenced to a potential 15 years in the Utah State Prison after getting a stern reprimand from 4th District Court Judge Gary Stott.

"People in the community feel that they should be free from having people offend (their) rights," Stott said. "She steals from the living as well as the dead, which is absolutely unacceptable."

Warner was first arrested last September after she tried to pass checks from the account of Sharee Hatch, her sister-in-law who was murdered by Warner's brother, Robert Steven Hatch, in 2002. He is serving two life terms in prison.

Warner was able to bail out last December on $20,000 cash or bond.

However, by March she was in jail again on allegations of burglary, theft and vehicle burglary.

Posting bail yet again, Warner stayed clean until September when she was picked up in Provo for a DUI and possession of a controlled substance.

"Prior to the past year, when these offenses were committed, she didn't have much of a criminal history," said prosecutor Chad Grunander. "In the past year, she's built quite a resume. It's full and complete now."

Warner was sentenced on eight third-degree felonies including forgery, identity fraud and possession of stolen property, two class B misdemeanors.

But both Adult Probation and Parole and her attorney, Shawn Howell, asked that Stott impose 240 days of jail rather than prison, and the chance to participate in substance abuse treatment.

"The acts in these cases are a result primarily of substance abuse problems and financial hardship, and certainly some of that financial hardship is a result of the substance abuse problems," Howell said. "(But) I think she has exhibited a major attitude change, particularly in regards to authority. She has made a positive change in that regard."

However, Grunander pointed out the statement in the AP&P report that labels Warner as a "high risk" to re-offend because of her heavy use of prescription drugs and illegal substances, her criminal history and bad friends.

Warner spoke briefly, apologizing to the victims, her family and the court for using their limited resources.

"I would like to formally apologize ... for my lack of character and the crimes I have committed," she said. "What I did was wrong and ... selfish and pathetic. I am ashamed, I've embarrassed myself and my family."

She also said she was sorry to bring more attention to her sister-in-law's death and more pain to that family.

Of the four cases facing Warner, Stott ran charges in each case concurrent with each other but ruled that three of the four cases would run one after another.

While requiring Warner pay thousands of dollars in restitution to her victims, Stott agreed to not impose fines because Warner won't have any way to pay for a while.

"The only thing I can say to you, with respect to what's happened here today, based on your conduct and your attitude you've expressed, is you earned everything that you've been sentenced on, and that's unfortunate."