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Mo. man apologizes for '87 theft from WSU

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A southwest Missouri man has been sentenced to probation for stealing a statue from Wichita State more than 25 years ago.

Mitchel R. Potter of Lamar, Mo., has pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property in connection with the 1987 theft of a bronze bust of poet Robert Frost from WSU. Potter, who was not a student at Wichita State, was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

Potter says he stole the statue when he was a 19-year-old fraternity pledge and that he should have left the sculpture alone. The Frost piece was acquired in 1983 and is one of two sculptures of the poet by Massachusetts artist Walker Hancock.

"It's embarrassing to have something come back after years," said Potter, 45.

He was arrested last year after a tip led authorities to the bust at Potter's home. The piece has since been returned to WSU, where it's in storage.

Potter contacted The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/17Ykifp) to apologize to WSU and explain why he stole the bust. He has declined to say where he was a student at the time of the theft or which fraternity he belonged to.

"I just wanted to let the university and Wichita know that I am truly apologetic for my actions as a youth, and I just didn't want people to think that I'd come up there and took it maliciously," he said.

He said he and friends were running around the WSU campus that day and ran into the statue, which teetered and shook. Potter said the bolts securing it to its concrete pedestal loosened, and the statue fell to the ground.

"It was like, 'Wow! Look at that. That's cool,' " Potter said. So they picked it up and fled, Potter said.

He said the statue sat in his basement in Lamar for more than 25 years.

Martin Bush, who worked for WSU from 1971 to 1989, reported it missing 25 years ago. Bush said he always thought the statue disappeared as part of a prank.

"I think he's paid his penalty, as far as I'm concerned," bush said. "I'm delighted that the university has it back."