Residents’ vigilance credited for burglary conviction

Prosecutor praises efforts that led to solving Birmingham Twp. break-in

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

A jury at the Chester County Justice Center took about 15 minutes to convict a Maryland man of burglary.

A jury at the Chester County Justice Center took about 15 minutes on Thursday to convict Robert L. LeCates of burglary.

In the criminal crowd, the scenario is commonplace: Knock loudly on a homeowner’s door, and then, if no one answers, force entry and grab what you can.

That setup played out only partially in Birmingham Township on Aug. 9, 2012, when a burglar was interrupted, initiating a chain of events that led to his conviction on Thursday by a Chester County Court jury.

The panel took about 15 minutes to find Robert L. LeCates, 31, of Salisbury, Md., guilty of burglary and criminal trespass. Under standard guidelines,  LeCates faces a possible prison term of 48 to 60 months when he is sentenced at a later date by Chester County Court Judge Phyllis R. Streitel, said Assistant District Attorney Carlos Barraza. LeCates received 18 to 36 months in jail for a 2002 conviction for aggravated assault in West Whiteland Township, court records said.

According to the criminal complaint, Birmingham Township Police responded to a burglary alarm in the 1300 block of Birmingham Road on Aug. 6, 2012, at 12:46 p.m. The female homeowner said she heard a noise at her front door, and by the time she walked to it, a man had forced entry and was standing in her foyer, the complaint said. The man, later identified as LeCates, fled, but not before the homeowner wrote down the Delaware license-plate number of the white Nissan Altima, the complaint said.

The following day, police heard from a neighbor of the homeowner, who said he had answered his door about noon and was met by a woman in her 20s, who asked for directions to Wilmington. He also jotted down the Delaware license-plate number, which matched the one police had already received, the complaint said. The man said about an hour later, he was traveling on Birmingham Road when the same Nissan, which contained a male driver and female passenger, crossed over the yellow line to pass him, the complaint said.

On Aug. 13, 2012, police interviewed LeCates, who was in custody at the Media state police barracks on unrelated theft charges, and a photo lineup was arranged for the homeowner, who identified LeCates as the man who burst through her front door, the complaint said.

Barraza praised the homeowner’s powers of observation. “She did a great job,” he said. “It was impressive how she was able to stand face to face and eye to eye with the person who broke in and still have the presence of mind to get details about how he looked … And even after he fled, she looked out the window and got information about the vehicle, including a license-plate number.”

The prosecutor also applauded the woman’s neighbor for being vigilant. “This ended up being neighbors looking out for neighbors,” he said.

Area police consistently recommend that homeowners report any suspicious activity, which would include strangers knocking at the door. Police said the visitors typically have an excuse ready to explain the intrusion if someone answers, such as looking for directions or soliciting. When the ruse isn’t needed, they often proceed to break in and steal valuables, said police, who label such break-ins “knock-knock burglaries.”





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