Bellingham woman gets 3 years in prison for snatching elderly woman's purse


BELLINGHAM - A purse-snatching couple will spend time behind bars after ripping an elderly woman's purse off her shoulder outside the Target store in Bellis Fair mall.

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig ordered Misty Lee "Munchkin" Dolan, 35 - who has a rap sheet replete with convictions for theft and forgery - to serve 43 months in prison Thursday, Aug. 29.

Her boyfriend, Manuel Valenzuela, 30, was sentenced to six months, the maximum allowed for someone with his history. (He had far fewer prior convictions.)

On the morning of April 22, a 78-year-old woman finished shopping at Target. She walked to her handicapped parking space and unloaded her cart. As she opened the car door to leave, Dolan came up and yanked away her purse, according to charges filed in Superior Court.

The woman held on as best she could, but Dolan overpowered her. A dark Ford Windstar was waiting nearby and the suspect hopped inside through an open sliding door. She got away with the woman's checkbook, driver's license, debit card and credit card.

Police later found out the van made a beeline to a 7-Eleven to fill up on gas. Security tape caught Valenzuela using the victim's credit card at the pumps. Then the Dolan and Valenzuela headed to a KeyBank ATM, where they tried to get $600 cash. All of that happened within 26 minutes of the theft.

Officers caught up with suspects in late June. Valenzuela confessed to the crime. It had been "an impulse thing," he said, according to the charges.

"Hey, grab that purse," Valenzuela recalled telling his girlfriend of four months.

Dolan claimed the purse had been in a shopping cart, so she hadn't taken it by force. Security footage from Target, however, told a more accurate story.

"Whatever force was used was directed at the item, not the person," her public defender, Starck Follis, said at her sentencing hearing Thursday.

Deputy Prosecutor James Hulbert nodded in agreement.

Both defendants pleaded guilty this week to theft in the first degree.

Last year, while Dolan was in jail, she showed up to court lethargic and slurring her words. Afterward, a deputy gave her orders for a strip search. Instead, she reached into her pants and pulled out a plastic bag with 19 grams of heroin.

"Here," Dolan said. "Just take it."

Superior Court Commissioner Martha Gross sentenced her to 15 months in prison for possession of heroin in April 2012. A state Department of Corrections spokeswoman did not return a reporter's phone calls Thursday afternoon to confirm why she was out of prison 12 months later, but it's common for nonviolent offenders to earn time off for good behavior.

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