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It was one of the most brazen acts of theft in the history of close-knit Whoville. Practically every Christmas gift in town was stolen, even the roast beast in the iceboxes.

Boldly, the perpetrator, known only by the moniker “Grinch,” moved in and out of house after house Christmas morning before dawn. He drove his pitiful little dog to pull a heavy sled loaded with loot in a single-minded attempt to stop the joyous holiday from ever arriving.

Struck by the futility of the task as he heard Christmas cheer rise from a town stripped of material possessions, however, the Grinch turned around. With a renewed understanding of the holiday spirit, he returned the gifts, then helped serve a community dinner.

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It was a decision that authorities say may have helped the Grinch avoid decades behind bars.

Law enforcement and legal experts around Massachusetts agreed to weigh in this holiday season on what a prosecution might have looked like if authorities had chosen to throw the book at the classic Christmas menace. Most agreed that the Grinch was lucky to have come around when he did.

Bob Harnais, president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said it could be argued that the Grinch’s decision to return the Christmas loot demonstrated that he had changed in the moments after he carried out the huge holiday heist.

Harnais also suggested the Grinch’s heart condition could sway a jury to a more sympathetic view of his actions. If he could actually prove his heart had grown three sizes that day, even better.

“Unfortunately, he’s a disabled person. His heart is the size of a peanut,” Harnais said. “Don’t you think you’d lash out?”

Attorney General Maura Healey said the Grinch made the right move when he showed up at the Whoville feast and carved the roast beast.

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Healey said she’d recommend no jail time for the Grinch’s actions, but she would like to see him return to Whoville every year to perform additional community service, such as cleaning the chimneys.

She added that his seeming self-rehabilitation was an opportunity for restorative justice.

“You have to think about what is the sentence that would be most appropriate,” Healey said. “Here, I think that he will do more good by performing and continuing down his path of community service.”

If the prosecutors, judges, and jurors of Whoville were less forgiving than the Massachusetts attorney general, the Grinch, who acknowledges being at least 53 years old, could conceivably spend the rest of his life behind bars for the totality of the crimes.

The Grinch could potentially face a felony charge of theft above $250, along with counts of breaking and entering at night for every Who house he hit. Animal cruelty would be on the table for his treatment of Max, that poor little dog with the tied-on antlers.

There’s even a possibility of a hate crime charge, given that the Grinch targeted those who celebrate Christmas.

If the Grinch were tried and convicted in Massachusetts, and if a merciless judge chose to impose consecutive sentences, the theft charges alone could lead to life behind bars.

But the consensus among the commentators was that his punishment would be light — if he was even charged at all. Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon said investigators there would take a hard look at whether the Grinch had learned a lesson on his own.

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“The most important thing is having the person see the outcome of their actions,” Solomon said. “I like to see a happy ending from a negative experience.”

Northeastern University School of Law professor Daniel S. Medwed said the suspect could argue that he was motivated by a “general aversion to joy.”

Medwed, who focuses on criminal issues and prosecution, said there’s really no question that the Grinch is guilty of theft. Though he did return the things he stole, he had no intention of doing so when he took them.

Medwed offered his analysis in Seussian verse:

“As a former defense lawyer, I think that if the Grinch is in a pinch, the case is surely no cinch, so I would need co-counsel — Atticus Finch.”

In a follow-up interview, Medwed said he felt confident that he could find a sympathetic court to hear his Christmas story. It seems quite clear in Whoville that all is forgiven.

“Maybe it’s a symbol of the holiday spirit,” Medwed said. “Even if you’ve been naughty, and not always nice.”


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.