Ocean Pines Burglary Conviction Appeal Denied

OCEAN PINES — A Salisbury man, convicted last year for his role in the burglary of an Ocean Pines residence in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in jail, had his appeal denied last week by the Court of Special Appeals.

Nicholas Thomas, now 27, of Salisbury, last June was found guilty by a Worcester County Circuit Court jury of first-degree burglary, theft and conspiracy to commit burglary for his role in a break-in at an Ocean Pines residence in October 2015 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Thomas quickly appealed the conviction for two essential reasons.

Thomas’ appeal asserted the written statements provided to police by the victim’s neighbor who had witnessed the crime was inconsistent with the testimony she gave during his trial. The appeal also asserted the evidence against him presented during his trial was insufficient to gain a conviction.

Last week, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals denied Thomas’ appeal on both counts. As a result, he will be required to serve out the remainder of his 10-year sentence. Thomas’ co-conspirator during the crime, Dakota Fletcher, now 22, also of Salisbury, confessed to the crime and pleaded guilty, resulting in a 10-year sentence with all but five years suspended.

On Oct. 26, 2016, an Ocean Pines resident received a call from his next-door neighbor telling him someone had broken into his house. When the resident returned home, he found several police officers in his residence and driveway. When he entered the house, he found it completely destroyed with most of the valuables missing including multiple large-screen televisions.

A couple hours earlier, the victim’s neighbor was walking her dog in the community when she saw an unknown vehicle parked in his driveway. She didn’t think much of it at the time, but when she returned to her own home and looked out the window, she saw two men pulling a television out of the front door. The neighbor called 911 and provided descriptions of the suspects, later identified as Thomas and Fletcher and the vehicle in which they left the scene.

Two days later, Thomas and Fletcher were identified as the suspects and were arrested. During an interview, Fletcher confessed to participating in the burglary and stealing the TVs from the victim’s house. Fletcher pleaded guilty and testified during Thomas’ trial how the burglary occurred although there was some dispute in Thomas’ role and if he ever actually entered the residence.

Fletcher testified he and Thomas, along with Fletcher’s fiancé, had driven to the victim’s home in Ocean Pines because they “just needed some money” and believed there would be money in the victim’s home. Fletcher testified Thomas first drove past the victim’s residence to make sure nobody was home and then returned and backed the vehicle into the driveway.

Fletcher testified he entered the victim’s residence through an unlocked sliding door in the back of the house and let Thomas in through the front door. Fletcher testified he went into the victim’s room seeking money and any drugs that might be in the house and that he and Thomas decided grab televisions and other electronics. Fletcher testified he and Thomas brought the TVs and electronics out the front door and loaded them into a trunk of Thomas’ vehicle before returning to their residence in Salisbury.

During his trial, Thomas told a different version of the events. He testified he and Fletcher went to Ocean Pines to buy marijuana and he waited in the car while Fletcher entered a residence to make the purchase. Thomas testified he waited in the car for about five minutes when he got out to smoke a cigarette. Thomas said he saw at that time the neighbor walking her dogs.

Thomas testified after a while, the front door opened and Fletcher emerged asking him to help him. Thomas testified he believed Fletcher was asking him to help out with the purchase of marijuana, but saw Fletcher leaving the front door with a television. Thomas said it was Fletcher who loaded the stolen televisions into the trunk of his vehicle and that he had barely got one foot on the front stairs and never actually entered the house.

The neighbor presented a version of the events more consistent with Fletcher’s testimony. The neighbor prepared and signed two written statements to police that she saw one man coming out of the house with a television and another saying two men were carrying the televisions out of the front door of the victim’s residence. Thomas’ attorney motioned to have the neighbor’s written statement admitted as evidence, a motion that was denied over rules procedures.

During Thomas’ trial, the neighbor testified she saw both men coming out of the victim’s residence and removing items with Thomas assisting Fletcher in the removal of the televisions. Thomas appealed his conviction asserting the neighbor’s written statements were inconsistent with her testimony at trial. Last week, the Court of Special Appeals denied the appeal.

“We hold that the evidence presented at trial supported a rational trier of fact finding the essential elements of burglary in the first degree,” the high court’s opinion reads. “Thus, we hereby affirm all three guilty verdicts …”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.