Residents never get over the loss of security that comes after a burglary, according to a Gila County judge.
The fear seeps into a homeowner’s sleeping hours and causes many to box up their belongings and leave the community.
“They come into their home wondering what they will find or who,” said Gila County Judge Peter Cahill at the sentencing Monday of a Pine woman, who pled guilty to burglarizing several homes in the Pine subdivision of Portals I and II.
Andrea Lynnae Braswell, 39, pled guilty to burglary in the second degree. Cahill ordered Braswell to pay $11,600 in restitution to eight victims and serve five years probation.
The sentencing is far less than the maximum of seven years in jail. Before making his final ruling, Cahill debated whether to sentence Braswell to one year in jail.
Ultimately, he decided against any jail time given the victim’s request for probation only.
“There is no reason to compound this tragedy and take you away from your family,” Cahill said.
The victims in this case are very generous to not demand the maximum, Cahill said.
“It demonstrates a lot of patience and human understanding,” he said. “It is rather remarkable.”
According to court documents, between April 6, 2008 and May 23, 2008, Braswell broke into numerous homes in the Portals community, where she was also a resident, living with her husband and teenage son.
In one burglary, Braswell used a pick ax to break into the master bedroom window of a home.
Gila County Sheriff’s deputies identified Braswell as a suspect when she returned to the home and said she had accidentally broken the window.
“There were several inconsistencies noted in her responses and she was placed under arrest,” a police reported stated.
After obtaining a search warrant, deputies went to Braswell’s home and learned from Braswell’s husband and son that Braswell “had befriended a woman who was moving from the area and was giving all of her possessions to Andrea and her family.
“They indicated Andrea had been bringing home several items for the last week and a half, and almost completely refurbished the home right down to the dishes in the kitchen,” according to court documents.
Braswell’s son told authorities he helped his mother retrieve some of the items. He recalled entering one home through a door with a broken window.
When investigators interviewed Braswell, she said she could not recall the burglaries or why she had done it.
Through an investigation, deputies learned Braswell is bi-polar, with obsessive compulsive disorder and severe depression.
According to court documents, shortly after Braswell relocated to the Portals in September of 2007, her mental health deteriorated. Medication seemed to help Braswell for a time. However, when her insurance coverage lapsed, she stopped taking medication.
“A crime spree quickly emerged as she burglarized several homes in her neighborhood,” according to court documents.
Deputies loaded two pickups and a large van with stolen items Braswell took from 10 homes. Items stolen included a propane grill, TV, rug, guitar stand, night light, dishwasher detergent, mixing bowls, fingernail clippers, a broom, shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, candles and clothing.
“Almost every single item was removed from our vacation home,” one homeowner wrote in a victim impact statement. “We had been collecting these items over the last six years. Many are irreplaceable. We will be selling the property.”
Braswell “essentially modernized her own home” with the stolen items, a court document states.
Braswell said she was very sorry for what she did and the inconvenience it caused.
“From all the wrong that has brought us here, I am very pleased that I can now understand and move forward with the improvement of my mental illness, which in turn will make me a much better person for society and most of all, my family,” Braswell said in court documents.
Braswell admitted in court that she suffers from several mental health issues, but is taking medication.
Braswell’s mental illnesses made her incompetent to stand trial, said Braswell’s attorney Michael Bernays.
Shortly after Braswell’s initial arrest, she spent two months in jail. For the last two years, she wore an ankle bracelet that tracked her whereabouts.
Throughout the trial, Braswell continued to live in the Portals, among her victims.
“I wanted to let the court know that I have suffered a great deal of stress and anxiety since the burglary,” one homeowner wrote. “The burglary has left me feeling insecure and afraid.”
Braswell has since moved out of the subdivision. According to the plea agreement, she is prohibited from entering either the Portals I or II.
Cahill said Braswell has three people to thank for her lesser sentence — her attorney, the victims and her family, “who has stuck by you for whatever reason I don’t know.”
“Cases like this are some of the worst we see,” Cahill said.