Four months after two people, on two consecutive days, broke into Kalifornsky resident Michael Stinnet’s shop off Gas Well Road, he still hasn’t gotten most of his stolen items back.
He did, however, get some justice after one of the persons arrested in the theft pleaded guilty in Kenai Superior Court Wednesday to the crime along with other charges from two separate cases. Stinnett said the conviction might not have been possible if he had not installed a game camera on his property after the first break-in. It caught two people in the act the next day.
Joseph Freel, 26, of Soldotna, pleaded guilty to four felony charges including – theft, misconduct with weapons, vehicle theft and a separate controlled substance charge. Freel also pleaded guilty to a parole violation from a 2013 drug conviction.
Freel’s attorney Chris Provost, from Anchorage, finalized an agreement with Kenai assistant district attorney Sam Scott prior to Wednesday’s court hearing. Under Alaska Statute, class C felony convictions carry a maximum five years in prison and up to $50,000 fine each. Scott read the resolution in court and said Freel would have three years suspended and a $5,000 fine on each felony and requested five years probation. Kenai Superior Court Judge Bauman scheduled Freel’s sentencing for April 9.
The first three charges stem from a September theft investigation by Alaska State Troopers at Stinnet’s shop on Helgeson Avenue. The day after he reported the first theft, he found his three-wheeler stolen. After looking over the footage with troopers, two felons, Freel and Alyssa Espinoza, 25, were caught on video.
According to a trooper affidavit filed in Kenai Superior Court on Oct. 12, 2014, Freel could be seen prying open the shop door. A broken knife was discovered on the ground near the door. Freel denied involvement in the burglary of the shop but admitted to being on camera during the theft and stealing the three-wheeler.
“(Freel) was looking right into the camera,” Stinnett said. “I would hope he didn’t want to fight anymore and pay his debt. Even though he pleaded guilty, the only way I get my money back is if he wants to pay me.”
Stinnett told troopers in addition to the three-wheeler and various personal items, at least three firearms were stolen – including an AR-15, a Russian SKS rifle with a bayonet and a .44 magnum pistol. Last October, a Kenai Grand Jury indicted Freel, Espinoza, Tyler Lewis, 28, and Paul Robson, 33, on eight total felony charges in connection with the burglary and theft of Stinnett’s shop.
Espinoza is facing seven felony charges burglary, theft, first-degree vehicle theft and misconduct involving weapons for selling two firearms to a felon.
If convicted on all seven charges, the maximum punishement is 35 years in jail. Espinoza was arrested on Sept. 28, 2014 on outstanding warrants for a failure to appear in court for a prior misdemeanor theft charge.
According to a trooper report, Espinoza and Freel were found hiding in Lewis’s trailer. Espinoza had heroin and was charged. During her booking at Wildwood, more heroin was found resulting in further charges.
Freel was also found with methamphetamines during his booking at Wildwood and charged with fourth-degree misconduct involving controlled substance and promoting contraband. Freel accepted the first charge and the second was dismissed.
Lewis said Freel and Espinoza had been staying with him and had stored some items at his residence. Lewis described a green duffle bag he told troopers “may have long guns inside it,” according to the affidavit.
After a follow-up interview with Lewis by troopers Casey Hershberger and Matt Ezell with the criminal suppression detail, they learned that Espinoza sold the guns to Robson, a known felon wholived in Kasilof.
Troopers got a search warrant on Oct. 10, 2014 for Robson’s property and an AR-15 was found in a green duffle bag. Troopers also found Robson in possession of 95.7 grams of heroin, and 11.5 grams of methamphetamines, a total street value of more than $40,000. If convicted of all charges from the drug bust, Robson could face up to 55 years in prison.
Three of the four co-defendants returned to court Wednesday with Freel and Robson in the courtroom and Espinoza on the phone from Wildwood Pretrial Facility.
Bauman said the co-defendant case is complicated because of the other felony cases that trail. Espinoza has three open cases while Robson has four active felony cases.
Espinoza’s public defender Joy Hobart said she is working with the district attorney’s office to come to a global resolution on all of Espinoza’s open cases. Bauman set trial dates for Espinoza, Lewis and Robson for March 23.
“I want to go to trial as soon as possible,” Espinoza said when Bauman asked if she would waiver her right to a speedy trial. “I guess I have no choice.”
Attorney Dina Cale represented Robson in the four co-defendant theft case. Cale asked for a continuance because she is new to the case and was waiting to review audio testimony. Attorney Rex Butler, who represents Robson in his other felony cases, said he would like to keep all Robson’s concurrent and will work with the DA’s office on a global resolution.
Robson is out of custody under the supervision of a third-party custodian. Lewis, who is charged with three counts of second-degree theft, was not in court Wednesday despite being on the docket, but his attorney Megan Comolli said she was also not ready for trail and is reviewing new discovery in the case. Lewis is currently jailed at Wildwood Correctional Center.
Stinnett said the only thing he got back was his three-wheeler, a 1981 Honda that was stashed in the woods nearby. Stinnett said he ended up selling it after the wheeler was stripped for its newer parts, he said.
Stinnett said he learned after the second break-in that the suspects lived down the street. He said he temporarily moved into his shop after a divorce and had a lot of his possessions stored there. Until he moves back into a house, Stinnett said he is not sure of what all was taken.
“Troopers nicknamed my place the honey hole,” Stinnett said. “Its frustrating with how much thefts were going on this summer. … I now have steel frame bar gates over my door.”
Scott said he has seen more cases recently that have been able to be resolved with convictions before trial thanks to testimony and evidence from the community.
“We like to see that,” he said. “If more people in the community would come forward and help in the investigations, we can get more convictions without going to trial.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org