Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Obituarists Abet Second-Story Man!

Judge gets tough on funeral burglar

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

NORTHAMPTON - A Hampshire Superior Court judge postponed sentencing yesterday for a man who admitted robbing several families while they were attending the funerals of loved ones.

Thomas J. Walker, 20, of 131 North St., Palmer, pleaded guilty to four counts of breaking and entering in the daytime to commit a felony, four counts of larceny over $250, and two counts of larceny of a firearm.

During his plea on Monday, Walker acknowledged that he studied obituaries, noted the times of certain funerals, and broke into the homes of the families of the deceased, knowing that they would be at the services.

Three of the thefts occurred in Belchertown, and one in South Hadley. All of the break-ins took place last July.

The court was told that Walker stole jewelry, money, computers, and other items from the homes, as well as two handguns. Police matched a fingerprint at one of the crime scenes to Walker, and also observed him on a surveillance videotape using one of the bank cards he stole.

Police stopped him while he was driving, and found some of the stolen property from South Hadley in his car, according to prosecutors. Many of the other items were recovered at his home.

Defense lawyer John W. Drake and prosecutor Frank E. Flannery had recommended a sentence of three to five years in prison in exchange for Walker's guilty plea, but Judge Bertha D. Josephson indicated that she would mete out an additional 10 years' probation, calling his actions despicable.

When a judge exceeds the recommended sentence, defendants are allowed to withdraw their guilty plea and seek a trial. Josephson gave Walker a day in which to reconsider.

In court yesterday, Walker said he would accept the sentence.

Josephson scheduled the sentencing for July 28 so that the probation department can prepare a pre-sentencing report. Drake told the judge that Walker developed a drug habit after his father, a former state Highway Department worker, was injured and became addicted to Oxycontin.

Use of the painkiller spread through the family, and Walker eventually became addicted to heroin, Drake said.

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