Circumstances Can Prove Burglary Guilt
By Richard Weatherington
Despite all the usual security tools and procedures that are available, a weak link in a check casher’s armor can sometimes be the very people who work inside the store. Recently, a Connecticut check casher discovered such a weak link in a trusted store manager.
A woman, whose first name was Edith, worked for a Connecticut check casher. She had been the store manager for one of its branches for three years.
The front entrance of the store had two glass doors, separated by a steel pole that enabled the locking system to function. The lobby of the store was the only area in which customers were allowed.
To gain entrance to the back area, employees had to be buzzed in or had to use a key. Once they entered the first secure area, they entered a “mantrap.” The employees thus had to enter another door that also could be accessed only with a key or via a buzzing system.
In the employee area, a small bathroom was on one side of the room and what was known as the “safe room” was on the other side. The safe, which had a dial lock combination system, was located in the safe room. Motion sensors were located throughout the store, but it did not have security cameras.
The only exit from the employee area was through the mantrap into the lobby. No one, other than an employee, was allowed in the employee area, including the bathroom, without the permission of the general managers.
One of the company’s general managers believed that Edith had been a good employee and that she was very trustworthy.
However, shortly before Christmas in 2004, he noticed that she had changed after she began dating a store customer. He observed a different attitude and that she had begun breaking store rules, including allowing her boyfriend into the employee area and cashing checks for him without charging the required fee.
On Feb. 22, 2005, Edith was working at the store. For a few hours that day, a part-time employee covered for her because she had an appointment. Although unusual for a Tuesday, the general managers arrived while the part-time employee was working, and they remained at the store until approximately 10 minutes after Edith returned to work.
While working, the part-time employee remained at the teller window in the secure area the entire time, and he did not allow anyone other than the general managers and Edith into that area.
He left the store shortly after Edith returned to work and before the general managers left. Edith was the only employee remaining at the store after the two general managers left.
Series of Phone Calls
When her shift was nearing completion, Edith counted all the money in the store, including the money in the safe, all of which totaled approximately $248,000.
About that time, Edith received a cellular telephone call from a former district manager of the check casher. Alex had trained Edith and other employees while serving as district manager. He had been fired from one of the check cashers’ branches before that store had been burglarized.
Edith received calls from Alex’s cellular telephone at 2:18 p.m. and at 6:01 p.m., despite having denied to one of the general managers that she stayed in contact with the former employee.
Cellular telephone records revealed that Alex’s New York-registered cellular telephone was in the store area when he made a call to Edith’s cellular telephone at 6:01 p.m. Someone using Alex’s Manhattan landline telephone called Edith’s cellular telephone at 7:38 p.m. and then called Alex’s cellular telephone at 7:53 p.m., which then was roughly 25 miles away from the store.
At 6:45 p.m., Edith printed the transactions list for the day, closed the safe, and sent a facsimile report to the main office. She punched out shortly after 7 p.m., telephoned one of the general managers, as she did at the end of every workday, to tell him that she was leaving the store, and activated the alarm system using her personal pass code. The general manager heard Edith enter her pass code because the buttons make a beeping sound when pressed. The alarm company recorded the alarm being set at 7:04:56 p.m.
At 7:33 p.m., the alarm company received notification that the alarm on the door to the safe had been triggered. A few seconds later, the motion sensor in the rear of the store was triggered, followed by the motion sensor in the front of the store, in the mantrap, and at the front door. All of this took about 12 seconds.
The alarm company notified the general managers, who were very concerned because the series of alarms indicated that the safe alarm was the first to have been triggered.
One of the general managers telephoned Edith and asked her to respond to the store immediately and to let in the police, which Edith agreed to do, explaining that she was nearby, behind the store, with her boyfriend. The general managers drove to the store.
The police found no evidence of forced entry, but the front door was opened. When Edith arrived, she let police into the secure areas using her key, where they discovered that the safe was open and the money was gone. The police noted that Edith did not appear surprised.
On April 5, 2005, the police arrested Edith for her role in the store burglary. Subsequently, the state charged her with accessory to larceny in the first degree, conspiracy to commit larceny in the first degree, and accessory to burglary in the third degree.
After a jury trial, Edith was convicted on all counts and sentenced her to several years of incarceration. Edith then appealed to the Connecticut Court of Appeals.
Edith claimed that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain a conviction for any of the crimes with which she was charged. Edith claimed that the “gist of the state’s theory of the case was that because the safe alarm went off first and the front door alarm last, someone had to have been in the safe room or work area before the security system was armed by her, and that she would have had to know of this, which meant that she helped bring about a plan to steal the money in the store on Feb. 22, 2005.”
Edith argued that the jury improperly found her guilty on the basis of mere speculation, without sufficient evidence. She conceded that the money was missing from the safe and the theft was an inside job. She challenged, however, the sufficiency of the evidence to prove that she knowingly participated in the theft.
The Appeals Court noted that although the evidence in the case was scant, there was sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. Because Edith conceded that all of the elements for each crime were proven, with the exception of proving that it was she who knowingly permitted a person to remain in the store for the purpose of taking the money, the Appeals Court said it would only address the issue of the evidence related to identity.
The standard of review applied to a claim of insufficient evidence is well established, said the Appeals Court. Courts apply a two-part test when they review the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction.
First, they construe the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict.
Second, they determine whether the finder of fact could use the facts so construed and the inferences reasonably drawn from them to reasonably conclude that the cumulative force of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Edith said that the jury found her guilty on the basis of mere speculation. She claimed that the evidence demonstrated that there was no place that an individual could have hidden in the store other than in the bathroom if the door was closed and that the prosecutor argued to the jury, with no basis in the evidence, that it would be “ridiculous” to conclude that Edith could have been at work from 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and not have used the bathroom, that someone could have hidden in there all of that time or that she would not have been concerned because the bathroom door was closed.
She said that the prosecutor’s argument caused the jury to speculate, with no basis in the evidence, that the bathroom door normally was opened, that she would have known if there was someone hiding in the bathroom, that she could not go five and one-half hours without using the bathroom, and that it would be impossible for a person to have hidden in the bathroom all that time.
Edith contended that it was very reasonable that a woman would not have to use the facilities for five and one-half hours and that a look at scientific literature reveals the reasonableness of this assertion.
Edith further argued that three other people were in the store who could have let someone into the bathroom unbeknownst to her and that many people leave their bathroom doors closed in their workplace.
The state responded that Edith was asking the court to retry the case on appeal.
Court Backs State
The Appeals Court said it agreed with the state and concluded that the evidence was sufficient to sustain Edith’s conviction.
The Appeals Court said that the evidence showed that four people entered the secure area of the store on the day of the theft: Edith, the two general managers, and the part-time employee.
The part-time employee did not let anyone else into the secure area. After he and the general managers left, Edith was the only person in the store with the ability to let anyone into the secure area.
Although Edith denied having contact with Alex, she spoke with him twice during the day in question. Alex telephoned Edith while near the store area at 6:01 p.m.
At about that same time, Edith, counted and totaled all of the money and remained at the store until just after 7 p.m., when she set the alarm, and left the store. Just after 7:30 p.m., the safe alarm was triggered, which meant that someone had been in the safe room area.
When the police arrived at the store, there was no evidence of forced entry and, according to the police, Edith did not appear surprised by the burglary. A police investigation revealed that there was no area in the store in which a person could have hidden except for the bathroom.
When the crime was committed it took only 12 seconds from the time the safe alarm was triggered until the alarm on the front door was triggered, suggesting that the money may have been prepackaged for a quick pickup.
On the basis of the evidence and the inferences reasonably drawn from it, the Appeals Court concluded that the jury could have inferred that it was Edith who knowingly was involved in the plot to take the money from the store and that she permitted someone to remain in the area of the safe after she set the alarm and departed the store on the evening of Feb. 22, 2005.
The Appeals Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s judgment.