DNA brings burglars close to justice…but not quite there

  • Kip Storz helped clean up the burglars’ mess at Robin Hood Jewelry, Aug. 12, 2011. Two months later, the Pine Mountain Village Post Office was burgled. [photo by Patric Hedlund]

    Kip Storz helped clean up the burglars’ mess at Robin Hood Jewelry, Aug. 12, 2011. Two months later, the Pine Mountain Village Post Office was burgled. [photo by Patric Hedlund]

By Patric Hedlund

A saga that began almost three years ago appeared to come to a close June 6, 2014 in the Kern County Superior Court. A defendant who pled “no contest” to four crimes walked out of the courthouse, free—if three years on probation can be called ‘free.’ The crimes he admitted to included the 2011 burglary of the post office in Pine Mountain Village. But postal inspectors presented no charges to federal prosecutors.

A similar crime saga involving a costly burglary is ongoing right now. That took place within a stone’s throw of the post office, at the former street-level storefront of Robin Hood’s Jewelry (next door to La Leña Restaurant), also in 2011.

Both of these events were very unusual for this area. They received quick response from Kern County Sheriff’s deputies, but the criminal justice system is a chain of interlinking parts. Weak links can result in flawed justice.

Both of these cases appear to have been compromised because of slow response on testing DNA samples by the county’s crime lab. Rape and murder cases have priority over thefts at the lab.

There are also unanswered questions about the outcome of the United States Postal Inspection Service investigation. The lead investigator was transferred out of the area before the case was finished. The Kern County Sheriff’s Sergeant for the Frazier Park substation and the Kern County Deputy D.A. for this area both said in separate interviews they thought it was possible that federal charges might still be filed.

Meanwhile, the statute of limitations is running out on these crimes.

Crimes and Punishment

The bright summer morning of August 12, 2011 dawned on an unexpected sight. The front window of the Robin Hood Jewelry store had been smashed. Shards of glass from broken display cases and the smashed window glistened across the carpet. The burglar/s had been efficient. Valuable items appeared to have been snatched quickly; then the thieves vanished. About $35,000 in merchandise was taken.

Blood was found on one very sharp piece of broken glass. Investigators took it as evidence and sent it to their crime lab.

Then, on Halloween night or in the first hours of November 1, 2011 the Pine Mountain Village Post Office was discovered burgled, with letters and packages reported stolen. Some people’s post box windows were shattered.

An investigating deputy found blood on a shard of glass there too. That was also sent to the Kern County Crime Lab.

These two sources of DNA evidence appear to have languished for over two years, awaiting testing. Meanwhile, checks taken from the local post office burglary were being forged and cashed, several in Bakersfield. Local deputies were alerted to the passing of checks traced back to local residents. They pursued the leads.

In early December 2012 they were able to bring charges against Jonathan Thomas Simpson, born in 1979 and a Bakersfield resident, for being in possession of stolen checks and credit cards. He was arrested while he was already in custody on another charge in the county’s Lerdo jail, but they could not definitively place Simpson at the scene of the Pine Mountain Village Post Office burglary.

He did receive five felony charges, including receiving stolen property, possessing a controlled substance, unauthorized use of identifying information of another, second degree burglary and a misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced to three years in county jail. He served 468 days and was given 128 days off for good behavior. He was also fined $ 1,285.

“Finally,” recalls Sgt. Mark Brown, “on March 23 of 2014 we got back our DNA CODIS hit [combined DNA index system] results from the crime lab, identifying that the DNA likely belonged to Jonathan Thomas Simpson.”

Deputy District Attorney Kevin Briley said he was concerned that a defense attorney—because of the age of the crime—might file a complaint about failure to provide a speedy trial. He said that if the defendant had been willing to wait 10 more days he would have been eligible for that defense: “And we would have gotten nothing. Given a choice between a misdemeanor and nothing…I’ll take something,” Briley said.

Simpson’s “nolo contendre” plea to a felony burglary charge at the post office was equivalent to a guilty plea, but Briley did a plea bargain with him, for misdemeanor burglary. Simpson was released for time served, with probation.

Now the DNA sample has also finally come back for the Robin Hood Jewelry Store burglary. It points to a suspect in Northern California. Deputies have gone to the San Francisco area and have interviewed the suspect. They are preparing to make an arrest. But the clock is ticking….

Photo caption:

Kip Storz helped clean up the burglars’ mess at Robin Hood Jewelry, Aug. 12, 2011. Two months later, the Pine Mountain Village Post Office was burgled.

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This is part of the June 13, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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