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Suspect charged in church burglaries

A Pooler man on probation for an aggravated child molestation conviction and prison sentence has been charged by the county sheriff’s office in a string of church burglaries that span over at least three counties including Screven.

Fifty-one-year-old Morris Cyral Gunter of 5050 Old Louisville Road in Pooler, was apprehended by Screven County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Michael Lacienski and Sgt. Brett Dickerson after a member of one the local churches noticed and bought items that reportedly had been taken from a Screven County house of worship. The church-goer made the purchase at a business in a neighboring county where Gunter was selling religious items like Bibles and other merchandise used in churches.

The observant shopper took her newly purchased items to the sheriff’s office and provided authorities with whom the items were bought and where. While the sheriff’s office continues its investigation into the possibility of additional church break-ins, law enforcement officers are in efforts to have congregation members identify items from their respective churches.

Gunter had served a nine-year sentence for a 1991 conviction for aggravated child molestation. When arrested, Gunter was working as the owner of a business that sold antiques and miscellaneous items, some of which church or cemetery-related. The business, Treasures From The Attic, was located in Springfield which is in Effingham County.

Now Gunter faces additional charges stemming from his prior sex offender conviction because he had not notified the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office of his whereabouts as a business employee/owner within that county which is required by law for registered sex offenders.

Not notifying Effingham County law enforcement broke the probation Gunter was on because he had previously been charged with failure to register as a sex offender.

The suspect is listed on the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office website on its sex offender registry. Gunter’s Pooler address is in Chatham. As of the Sylvania Telephone’s press time, Gunter remained jailed in Screven County awaiting transport to the Effingham County Jail.

While Gunter faces additional time with Effingham County for violating his probation for failure to register, the Screven County Sheriff’s Office has the task of potentially recovering more church and cemetery-related items that were reportedly stolen from worship centers and graveyards.

Lacienski, who worked as lead on this investigation, said Tuesday evening after he and Dickerson returned from Pooler to Screven County with reported stolen items that Gunter currently faces approximately eight burglary charges for unlawfully entering churches. As more information is obtained, the counts of burglary could rise, Lacienski said.

Additionally, Lacienski said Gunter has the possibility of facing vandalism charges for any damages that occurred during entrance into the various churches. Other types of charges are possible as the investigation continues, he said.

Lacienski and Dickerson, thus far, have recovered reported stolen church and cemetery items from Bulloch, Jenkins and Screven counties. Some of the items from Bulloch have been returned to the respective churches. The two investigators said it is possible some of the items recovered may be linked to Effingham County.

Lacienski thanked the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office for establishing a surveillance on Gunter’s business in Springfield; the church member who assisted in the case; and others.

“I want to stress the importance of citizens not just being victims but also cooperating with us,” Lacienski said. “We want to credit our community for working with us. We would love for that to happen a lot more.

“Because of that help this case fell together quite nicely,” he said. “I also have to give a shout out to the Big Man upstairs. I know He had a part in helping us solve these church burglaries.

“Brett (Dickerson) has worked this case equally as hard,” Lacienski said. “It is such a vast case.”

The church member who helped law enforcement break the case reportedly drove past Gunter’s business in Springfield and noticed some church items outside the front door.

Gunter reportedly opened the business in August 2014.

The items resembled ones that were taken from that church member’s house of worship.

“I mostly just noticed the chairs,” said the church member who spoke with the Sylvania Telephone without the use of a name to keep confidentiality during the continued investigation.

The church member bought the chairs for $5 each. When the chairs were taken to the local church, the items were matches to the remaining chairs at the church.

That is when the church member called the sheriff’s office.

“I told [Gunter] that we had chairs stolen from our church that looked like those,” said the church member, remembering back to the conversation with the Effingham County business owner. “I asked him where he had gotten them. He said, “I get them from all over the place.”

The church goer calls it divine intervention upon noticing the chairs while driving down the road in front of the business.

“I hope they can get the guy off the streets so he won’t be able to hurt anybody else,” the church member said. “They found our Bible. We are ready to get our Bible back.”

The sheriff’s office has located silver platters, porcelain figurines and a projector from North Newington Baptist Church.

They found a table that belonged to Cypress Pond Baptist Church and stereo from Goloid Methodist Church. Law enforcement also located a box of prayer hymnals from Lower Lotts Creek Baptist Church.

A cemetery gate from Scarboro Cemetery in Jenkins County was located.

Lacienski said the sheriff’s office will continue to do interviews as it attempts to return found items back to the original owners.

“Every day we are uncovering another layer,” Lacienski said.