Man who burglarized occupied Belfast homes to serve five years
Belfast — A 23-year-old Belfast man who was charged with a string of burglaries at occupied homes in Belfast late last year pleaded guilty to charges associated with those crimes Thursday, Aug. 29, and will serve more than five years in prison.
Jason Beal pleaded guilty to a series of break-ins that police said occurred during the overnight hours of Nov. 8, 9 and 10 of last year. Beal also faced a theft charge that resulted from the theft of a wood carving that was on display in Belfast Nov. 27 of last year.
Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said he and Beal's attorney, Lisa Whittier, worked out an plea agreement that would have resulted in a five year and three-month sentence as a baseline term of incarceration. That, said Walker, is because Beal was on probation for similar crimes when he committed the Belfast burglaries and thefts. The state and defense agreed Beal's actions warranted a full probation revocation. Walker said Beal was convicted of similar crimes in April 2011.
From there, Walker said, the plea agreement would cap the potential sentence for Beal at a total of eight years in the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections.
The plea arrangement also meant the state would dismiss eight of the total 12 burglary and theft charges Beal faced in connection with the break-ins.
Walker described the nature of the latest charges Beal faced, noting that because Beal entered homes as residents slept, “it's a miracle he hasn't gotten himself killed.”
Walker detailed the break-in at a home on Ocean Street during the early morning hours of Nov. 8, when Beal entered the home of a 79-year-old widow who was asleep in her bed. The woman, who lived alone, was awoken suddenly when Beal walked into her bedroom and shined a flashlight in her face.
“She yelled at this person to get out of her house,” said Walker.
After Beal left the room, Walker said the woman barricaded the door with heavy furniture and waited hidden there for about four hours, after which she emerged and called police. During that time, Walker said the woman could hear the man, who was later identified as Beal, rifling through different rooms in the home. When she inspected her home later, Walker said the woman discovered she was missing some jewelry.
While investigating that break-in, Walker said police followed a set of footprints in the snow that went from the crime scene to another Ocean Street dwelling. After calling dispatch, police learned the homeowners were away on vacation. Upon further investigation, police discovered someone had entered that home as well and took some jewelry.
Walker said the burglar also left some valuable evidence behind — a screwdriver on the floor and a cigarette butt in the toilet. DNA left on both of those items implicated Beal, Walker said.
Nov. 9, Walker said Beal entered another Belfast home and took several jewelry items, as well as video games, a paintball gun and an iPod that belonged to the homeowner's son. Both the father and son were home when Beal entered that home.
Then Nov. 10, police received a report of a fourth residential break-in in which more jewelry turned up missing. Walker said one of the rings reported stolen from that residence was engraved with the owner's initials. When police checked with a local jewelry store, clerks there confirmed Beal had sold them some jewelry, including the engraved ring.
Walker also detailed the Nov. 27 theft of the wooden carving that was the work of local artist Ron Cowan. Cowan, said Walker, is known for the intricate carvings of human faces he creates from logs.
Walker said the carving Beal was accused of stealing was worth several hundred dollars, and that Beal stated he stole it from its display location on lower Main Street because he was drunk and he liked the piece.
Beal returned the carving after police got a tip that Beal may have stolen it, and asked his employer to contact Beal to see if he would return it. When Beal finished his shift at a local restaurant, Walker said, police followed him to his residence, where Beal obtained the sculpture and handed it over to police.
Walker said at the time of those incidents, Beal was on probation after pleading guilty to a series of similar crimes, one of which involved the theft of about $27,000 in cash that was kept in a safe at a Swanville home back in 2009. Beal pleaded guilty to charges associated with that case in July 2010. Then in October 2010 Walker said Beal was involved in two more break-ins, one in Swanville and one in Belfast. Beal stole a firearm, a laptop, cash and jewelry from the Swanville home, and a few days later, Walker said Beal burglarized the Belfast home.
Walker characterized the Belfast break-in as the more serious of the incidents because a woman was inside the home at the time. The woman heard Beal rummaging around the house and she obtained a handgun with the intent to escape the house. While trying to leave undetected, Walker said the woman encountered Beal, who had his back to her as she sneaked through the kitchen. Beal did not know the woman was there, Walker said, and she escaped unharmed.
That scenario was also fortunate for Beal, Walker said.
“Had Mr. Beal turned around, she was going to shoot him,” said Walker.
Beal left the premises and police located him a short while later.
In addition to Beal's criminal history, Walker argued a longer prison sentence was also appropriate because of the impact Beal's actions have had on the latest victims.
One of them, said Walker, now sleeps with a baseball bat beside his bed.
Whittier said Beal is remorseful, and said he has struggled with homelessness since age 16, and later, an opiate addiction that started after he was prescribed pain medication after Beal was hurt in an accident. She said her client is known for having a strong work ethic, having been employed at several local restaurants, and told Justice Robert Murray Beal is one math exam away from earning a General Equivalency Diploma.
Whittier advocated for any additional sentence to be run concurrent with the five-plus years Beal would serve due to the probation revocation because she said a longer sentence would make Beal ineligible for some of the programs offered at the prison.
Beal also addressed the court briefly.
“I'm not here to make excuses for what I've done. What I've done is wrong,” he said. “... I truly am sorry.”
After considering both arguments, Justice Murray handed down a sentence of five years and three months, with lesser sentences for the Class B and C burglary charges running concurrently. Beal was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $675.
Friday morning, Aug. 30, Walker said he was “deeply disappointed” in the sentence.