For Dolores Yukness, the diamond wedding set symbolized the love she shared with her husband for 45 years.
For Frederick Tapley, it was a means to pay his cable bill.
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On Thursday, the 37-year-old Romeoville man was sentenced to two years in prison for swiping the rings off Yukness' finger after she died of cancer at age 71.
It was the second conviction on similar charges for Tapley, a former hospital worker who admitted stealing from the dead in another case 10 years ago.
"It is a moral affront when the deceased are victimized, and you victimized the deceased again and again," DuPage County Judge Daniel Guerin told Tapley.
Yukness' daughter, Kristen, testified she noticed the jewelry missing when she viewed her mother's body at a funeral home last July, following her mother's death at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.
Assistant State's Attorney Mary Cronin said Tapley, who used to work for Good Samaritan, was later confronted by police and admitted he stole the rings while moving the Lombard woman's body to the morgue.
Cronin said Tapley told investigators he sold the jewelry, valued at $3,500, for $200 to a Lansing pawnshop and used the money to pay his cable bill.
Tapley, who pleaded guilty to felony theft in March, repeatedly apologized to the victim's family in court Thursday, saying "there's not a day that goes by that I don't remember all of this."
But Guerin rebuffed his attorney's request for probation and community service, noting Tapley's misdemeanor theft conviction in 2001 for taking credit cards from two deceased patients at West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park.
"It's hard to believe to a certain extent that a person can be remorseful for this action when it's happened before," Guerin said.
Kristen Yukness said her mother cherished the ring set and rarely took it off, even after her husband William died of cancer in 2001.
Yukness said the rings were returned, but the bands had been stripped of their emerald-cut diamonds, which will require work to repair chips and other damage. "Those rings were everything to my mother because they represented her life with my dad," she said. "We used to joke we'd have to cut the rings off or cut off her finger. No greater sign of disrespect could have been shown."