BERLIN — A Westover, Md. man, convicted in 2016 on charges of first-degree burglary and theft following a bizarre incident in Ocean Pines, had his burglary conviction overturned on appeal last week.
In March 2016, Brenden Baker, now 27, was found guilty in Worcester County Circuit Court of first-degree burglary and theft under $10,000. According to the agreed upon facts in the case, an Ocean Pines man who, along with his wife, were watching their neighbor’s home and looking after their dog while they were on vacation, made arrangements with a prostitute vacationing in Ocean City.
Depending on which version of the story one believes, the prostitute, along with her boyfriend, Baker, came back to the residence in Ocean Pines and took the goods reported stolen, including brand-new Xbox consoles, controllers and games along with other goods valued at over $1,000, or the victims’ neighbor offered the stolen goods to the prostitute in lieu of a cash payment for the services rendered.
In either case, the investigation determined Baker had pawned the stolen goods at a pawn shop in Landover Hills. As a result, he was arrested and charged with first-degree burglary and theft.
Baker was convicted on both counts in March 2016 in Worcester County Circuit Court and was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Baker appealed the convictions to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals on two fronts including the validity of the “breaking” element of the first-degree burglary conviction and the estimated value of the stolen goods he later pawned. Last week, the Court of Special Appeals issued an opinion reversing the first-degree burglary conviction, but upholding the theft conviction.
According to the agreed upon facts of the case, the victims, an Ocean Pines couple along with their children, went on vacation in South Carolina during the summer of 2016. While the victims were away, their neighbors agreed to watch the house and look after their dog. When the victims returned from vacation, they learned two new Xbox consoles, controllers and games along with a piggy bank and an old wallet were missing.
The victims contacted the police and the investigation determined the stolen game consoles, accessories and other goods had been pawned at a pawn shop in Landover Hills. Because the games were brand new, the victims had serial numbers for them and they were tracked to the pawn shop. The investigation determined Baker had pawned the stolen goods and he was subsequently arrested and charged and later convicted.
During Baker’s trial, the victims’ neighbor testified he and his wife took turns watching the neighbors’ home and walking their dog. The male neighbor testified he did not have a key to the victims’ home and the door was left unlocked because they lived in a safe neighborhood.
The neighbor testified during Baker’s trial that he had email and text correspondence with a prostitute in Ocean City and negotiated services for $100. The “john” testified he picked up the prostitute at the appointed time and place and brought her to the vacationing neighbors’ home. The “john” testified prior to the encounter, he had withdrawn $100 from an ATM and paid the prostitute for her services before dropping her back off where he picked her up.
However, the prostitute told a different story during Baker’s trial. The prostitute testified she was vacationing in Ocean City with Baker when the “john” made arrangements with her for services. The prostitute testified she agreed to meet the “john” and he did bring her to the neighbor’s house where services were rendered.
However, the prostitute testified the “john” refused to pay cash for the services and instead “offered her the Xbox games and whatever else she wanted from his neighbor’s home,” according to court documents.
At trial, different versions were presented by the state and the defense. Essentially, either the prostitute took the Xbox games and other stolen goods as payment after the tryst in the vacant home in Ocean Pines, or the prostitute and Baker returned to the residence after the fact, entered the home that was left unlocked and stole the goods.
In either case, it was Baker who pawned the stolen goods and he was arrested, charged, convicted and ultimately sentenced to 10 years. It’s important to note neither the prostitute nor the “john” were charged in the case, likely because they agreed to testify against Baker, which is why their names are not included.
Baker appealed the first-degree burglary conviction on the grounds there was no evidence of an actual breaking and entering. In the opinion issued last week, the Court of Special Appeals asserted the “breaking” element in a first-degree burglary was loosely interpreted under state law.
“It doesn’t take much under Maryland common law to constitute a breaking,” the opinion reads. “It may consist of lifting a latch, drawing a bolt, raising an unfastened window, turning a key or knob or pushing open a door kept closed merely by its own weight.”
However, the Court of Special Appeals opined in this case, there was no evidence Baker had even entered the residence in Ocean Pines from which the property was stolen.
“While possession of stolen goods may be sufficient to support a theft conviction, it is insufficient without more to support a conviction for burglary,” the opinion reads. “Here, there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Baker committed a breaking or even any testimony that the last lawful occupant had closed the doors.”
The appeals court opinion asserts the state’s case speculates it was unlikely the victims left their home open when they went on vacation, that it was unlikely the neighbors who were watching the home would have left the doors open after walking the dog or that it was unlikely the dog would have even remained in the home if the door was wide open.
“These suggestions miss the point,” the opinion reads. “It was the state’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baker broke into the house. It is insufficient as a matter of law for the state to sustain a burglary conviction merely by Baker’s subsequent possession of the stolen Xboxes.”
As a result, the Court of Special Appeals reversed Baker’s conviction in Worcester County Circuit Court for first-degree burglary, but upheld Baker’s conviction for theft from $1,000 to $10,000, largely because he was in possession of the stolen goods and ultimately pawned them. Baker is seeking a modification of his sentence for the lesser theft charge.