Appeals Court Upholds Worcester Burglary Verdict

BERLIN — A Maryland appeals court this month upheld the conviction of a Delaware man sentenced last year to five years for the break-in and robbery of an unoccupied Whaleyville residence.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals last week ruled in the appeal filed by Kevin Hocker, 30, of Dagsboro, upholding the appellant’s appeal of a Worcester County Circuit Court conviction last fall. Hocker was found guilty of first-degree burglary and theft last year and was sentenced to a combined 25 years, all but five of which was then suspended, but appealed the conviction on several grounds including the assertion there was no nexus between his possession of the stolen goods to the break-in.

The burglary occurred on Aug. 8, 2013, at a residence on Murray Rd. in Whaleyville. On that morning, the female victim locked her house and went to work a 12-hour shift. While at work, the victim received a call that her husband, who was a patient in a hospital in Baltimore, had gone into cardiac arrest. The victim left work and drove to Baltimore, but by the time she arrived, her husband had passed away.

When the victim returned home later that night, she noticed that the front door was locked, but that the back door was open about four inches. The victim discovered that a television was missing, along with a steel safe. The contents of the safe included gold and silver coins, ivory, an old German gun, figurines, silver certificates, old bills and around $2,000 in cash.

The victim reported the burglary to the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and an investigation revealed many of the items identified as stolen from the residence hand been pawned the very next day at a shop in nearby Delaware. Extensive evidence including receipts, photo identification and other paperwork connect Hocker to the stolen items and ultimately the break-in at the Whaleyville residence.

Last September, Hocker was found guilty in Worcester County Circuit Court of first-degree burglary and theft. In November, he was sentenced to 15 years for the burglary conviction with all but five years suspended, and 10 years for the theft conviction, with all but five years suspended. Hocker quickly filed an appeal, asserting just because he was in possession of the stolen property and sold it at a Delaware shop, no evidence was presented at trial to connect him to the actual break-in. His appeal relied heavily on a previous case during which a defendant was acquitted after stolen property was found in his trunk, but there was no evidence connecting him to the crime.

This week, however, the state’s Court of Special Appeals opined the timing of Hocker’s possession of the stolen property in relation to the timing of the burglary was sufficient for the conviction.

“Although there was testimony that the defendant knew the home would be unoccupied and was spotted at the home by neighbors during the critical time frame, we determined that the ‘clincher’ was the inference, from his unexplained possession of recently stolen goods, that he was the thief of those stolen goods,” the opinion reads. “In holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions, we reaffirmed that the unexplained exclusive possession of recently stolen goods permits an inference that the possessor is the thief.”

As a result, the convictions and sentences were upheld.

“After viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, and as a result of the permissible inferences, which have not been rebutted, we agree that the evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to find, without a reasonable doubt, that the appellant broke into the victims’ home with the intent to commit a theft,” the opinion reads.