Instead of a 142-year prison term, Judge Benjamin Lewis placed Denson on five years probation for his role in the burglary spree that plagued Cape Girardeau and Jackson for nine months. Lewis also ordered, at Denson's request, that he enroll in Teen Challenge, a faith-based program for treatment of drug abuse.
"Any of the victims would have been within their rights to shoot and kill you," Lewis told Denson. "That would have caused your family to cry, but to anyone else you would have been a statistic and one less burglar."
The sentence handed down by Lewis technically was two consecutive 10-year prison terms on two counts of first-degree burglary. Denson was given 15 seven-year sentences to run concurrently on as many charges of second-degree burglary. One count of stealing a firearm added another concurrent seven-year stint.
Lewis suspended the sentence and placed him on probation, which leaves Denson with a criminal record, and Lewis warned if Denson didn't follow the rules of probation, he would go to prison to serve his time. The drug treatment program was required because Denson was smoking marijuana daily at the time of the offenses, according to court documents.
More than a dozen victims filed impact statements with the court, including one who wrote about the sense of violation the burglary left him with. The man now arms himself in his own home, according to the statement.
Denson became the second of three defendants to be sentenced after each pleaded guilty to various charges stemming from the nine-month spree that ended with dozens of victims. Jacob Colyott, 20, also was sentenced to five years probation for two burglary charges. William Artadi, with his 13 counts, is to be sentenced next week.
But Denson, whom police called the ringleader, pleaded guilty to the most at 18. Denson admitted to the judge in November that he was involved with two home-invasion burglaries -- which take place when the victims are still home -- and 15 second-degree burglaries. His one stealing charge was for a stolen gun.
Denson's lawyer, Malcolm Montgomery, disagreed Monday with the notion that the sentence was light in consideration of the bulky charge totals.
"Twenty years is a long time to have hanging over your head," Montgomery said. "If he messes up, that's what he'll serve. I think what the judge did was pretty fair. Lots of people were affected by this."
Montgomery also mentioned to remember that Denson served six months in the Cape Girardeau County Jail while going through the criminal courts process.
The men originally faced a combined 33 counts, but that number changed as they each made plea agreements with prosecutors in exchange for reduced charges. Victims made reports after they had been robbed that suggested the culprits stole whatever they came across, from televisions to tennis shoes and video games to guitars. But the crimes also included the theft of money and a handgun.
The crimes came to an end when the men were arrested in June after they burglarized the home of Martha Hamilton, a real estate agent. She and her husband were awakened by a noise in the night. When they went to investigate, they were told to stay where they were. Someone from the dark said they had a gun.
"It was a scary moment for us," Hamilton said. "I really hope they realize the seriousness of what they've done. It's a horrible thing."
100 Court St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.