Chesed Shel Emeth vandal pleads guilty, sentenced to probation, restitution

Toppled headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth cemtery in University City following the February 2017 vandalism

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Alzado Harris, the man charged with knocking over more than 150 headstones in a 2017 vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, on Thursday pleaded guilty and received three years’ probation and a suspended execution of sentence, according to a court filing. 

Judge John D. Warner of the St. Louis County court also ordered Harris, 35, to pay $5,000 in restitution, maintain full-time work and take an anger management course. 

Harris, who had previous arrests, told police that he was angry after an argument with a friend and was drunk and high on marijuana when the friend dropped him off near the University City cemetery in February 2017, then-St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said in a press conference last April.

The crime attracted international attention. Afterwards, a pair of Muslim activists raised more than $140,000 to help with repairs at the cemetery, and then-Gov. Eric Greitens organized a clean-up that drew more than 1,000 people, including Vice President Mike Pence. 

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More than a year passed after the vandalism and the police had not made any arrests. Then in May 2018, the police arrested Harris for institutional vandalism, a class D felony. The police said Harris had provided a DNA sample  when he entered prison months earlier for a different crime. They then matched the sample to DNA on a jacket left underneath one of the headstones. After police arrived at Harris’ home in Florissant, he agreed to talk with them about the crime and later confessed.

Anita Feigenbaum, executive director of Chesed Shel Emeth, said in a statement that the organization had no comment on the verdict but “would like to thank the University City police and the judicial system for apprehending Alzado Harris and following through until his guilty plea.  We are grateful that the case has been solved and resolved.”