updated 7/12/2007 3:11:26 PM ET 2007-07-12T19:11:26

A man who sickened more than 40 members of a Darien church last year by spiking their grape juice with soap was spared prison time at the request of parishioners.

Wendell Woodroffe, 29, had pleaded guilty and told police he poured the dishwashing detergent into grape juice at a drugstore where he worked to get back at his bosses. He was upset because he had been working at the store since 1998 and was still stocking shelves.

Prosecutors recommended the maximum five-year prison sentence, but members of the Calvary Baptist Church asked the judge on Wednesday to show mercy.

Woodroffe was sentenced to five years probation.

“I’m glad he received probation,” the Rev. Anthony Gibson said. “We did not want to see this young man’s life ruined by this.”

Woodroffe’s attorney, Philip Russell, argued that he could not understand the seriousness of his crime because he has severe developmental problems.

Woodroffe pleaded guilty in May to spiking the juice in January or February 2006. He also pleaded guilty to an unrelated harassment charge involving 39 threatening phone calls to a female friend’s ex-boyfriend.

He told Stamford Superior Court Judge Robert Devlin he was sorry but declined to comment after the hearing.

'A foolish thing'
Parishioners drank the juice Feb. 5, 2006. It sickened 44 people, half of them senior citizens. They reported burning in their throats, vomiting and nausea.

Traces of Woodroffe’s DNA were found on three bottles and he eventually confessed. He also told police he had poured mouthwash in a bottle of prune juice that sickened a woman in 2005.

“It was a foolish thing for him to do,” Gibson said, “but we’re just thankful no one was seriously injured.”

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