Entering the home of friends as a trespasser with intent to steal is a breach of trust, Magistrate Valdis Foldats said on Monday when he sentenced Leidy Montero Gutierrez to 16 months’ imprisonment for burglary.
Ms. Gutierrez, 27, pleaded guilty to the offense, committed on March 29 this year in George Town. Crown counsel Garcia Kelly explained that the defendant had been at her friends’ apartment the previous day, when one of the occupants misplaced her front door key. Ms. Gutierrez found it and kept it.
The next evening, two of the occupants left the apartment securely locked and went to a bar. Ms. Gutierrez was there at the establishment. After a while, she left, asking a male patron for a ride. She told him she was going to a family friend’s home, but in fact directed him to the complainants’ apartment. While she was gone from the bar, she kept in contact with the two women. She then returned to the bar, stayed about two hours and left again.
The complainants returned to their apartment around 11:30 p.m. and found that it had been broken into. The back door was wide open and the place had been ransacked, Mr. Kelly said.
The two women and a third person who lived there noted that several items were missing, including $1,000 in cash, a gold chain with coin pendants, a gold ring, a Louis Vuitton handbag and two other amounts of cash. They called police.
Later, they viewed a neighbor’s CCTV and recognized the defendant approaching and leaving the apartment on the night of the burglary.
Police obtained a search warrant and went to a West Bay residence where Ms. Gutierrez was staying with a male friend. Nothing was found. She was arrested and interviewed, but denied being the person in the CCTV and denied the burglary.
Police persisted in their investigation, Mr. Kelly told the court. They traced the license number of a vehicle seen on CCTV and obtained another search warrant. The owner confirmed how his vehicle had come to be at the scene of the burglary.
In early April, officers received information that caused them to meet again with Ms. Gutierrez and her male friend. She took them to a grassy area where she had thrown the handbag and then to a West Bay residence where a chain, pendant, ring and about $1,580 in cash were found in a bag under a flower pot. She said that represented all that she had taken.
Interviewed again, Ms. Gutierrez admitted to finding the apartment key and keeping it with the intention of committing burglary. She explained that she was soon going home to the Dominican Republic and had nothing to take back with her.
Mr. Kelly said the aggravating features of the offense included its planning, the ransacking, the attempt to conceal evidence, and the abuse of trust after being invited into the complainants’ home as a friend.
Defense attorney Jonathon Hughes emphasized mitigating factors. He said the ransacking was limited to tossing clothing on the floor. He said the only vandalism was lipstick on a mirror. The magistrate said the lipstick was an effort to point the investigation in someone else’s direction. He said the victims had come home and did not know what they would find: “It’s almost a Hollywood terror movie, with writing on the mirror.”
Mr. Hughes said the complainants were acquaintances rather than friends and Ms. Gutierrez did not have the gall to burgle a stranger’s home.
“She was desperate not to go home with nothing,” he told the court. Ms. Gutierrez had held several temporary work permits in various bars, where she was often not properly remunerated, he explained.
The attorney asked for credit for his client’s early guilty plea and assistance in recovering stolen items.
The magistrate said it had to be an aggravating factor that Ms. Gutierrez had stolen from people who were at least acquaintances, if not friends. Stealing from strangers means that they lose goods; stealing from someone you know adds a feeling of “my friend betrayed me,” which had to be more serious, he told the defendant.
The sentence starting point for burglary of a dwelling is three years, he noted. Mitigating factors reduced it to two years. With full one-third credit for the guilty plea, the magistrate said the sentence was further reduced to 16 months.
The court had to send a message to people who might be thinking of committing this sort of crime, he observed: “The crude tool the court has is jail, but that’s how the message is sent.” This was not an appropriate case for a suspended sentence, he concluded, so the defendant was taken into immediate custody.