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Cigarette butt leads to conviction of Limerick burglar

The Mercury, a Journal Register Property,
BYLINE: Carl Hessler Jr.,
Link to Article

Montgomery County, PA

NORRISTOWN – A cigarette butt left behind by a Limerick burglar was the smoking gun that led to a Philadelphia man’s conviction for the crime.

James Francis DePaul, 26, of Lawndale Avenue, was convicted Wednesday by a Montgomery County jury of charges of burglary, criminal trespass and theft by unlawful taking in connection with the Dec. 17, 2008, break-in at a home on Metka Road in Limerick.

The jury reached the verdict after hearing testimony that DePaul’s DNA was discovered on a cigarette butt that Limerick police found at the scene of the burglary, apparently left behind by DePaul.

At the time of the burglary, which netted DePaul $200 in cash, DePaul was actually residing in a halfway house in Philadelphia under pre-release status in connection with a previous state prison sentence he was serving for a 2004 Abington convenience store robbery during which he stole cigarettes.

“I think it’s safe to say that smoking has taken years off Mr. DePaul’s life, especially when he continues to commit crimes in Montgomery County,” said Assistant District Attorney John Walko, who vowed to seek prison time against DePaul for the Limerick crime.

“I’m happy with the jury’s verdict. I believe they reached the right result, no ifs, ands, or buts, well maybe one but, a cigarette butt,” Walko added.

As jurors were polled individually by court clerk Kevin Frankel, several members of DePaul’s family wept with each “guilty” verdict that was announced.

Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who presided over the two-day trial, immediately revoked DePaul’s bail, while emphasizing that DePaul committed the burglary while in a state Department of Corrections’ pre-release program for his 2004 robbery conviction.

“This defendant also has a history of violent crimes. Further release would be a risk,” said O’Neill as sheriff’s deputies slapped handcuffs on DePaul’s wrists for the trip to jail.

DePaul, who was represented by defense lawyer Andres Jalon, faces a possible maximum sentence of 14 ½ to 29 years in prison on the charges.

An investigation of DePaul began on Dec. 17, 2008, when the Metka Road homeowner returned home to find that his home had been burglarized. The resident discovered $200 in cash was taken.

Authorities discovered a cigarette butt on the living room floor, near a laptop computer that had been moved by the burglar, according to the arrest affidavit filed by Limerick Detective Ernie Morris. The investigation determined that no one who resided in the home smoked.

“The cigarette butt was collected and submitted for evidence,” Morris wrote in the criminal complaint, explaining state police forensic scientists were able to extract DNA from the cigarette.

Trial testimony revealed a DNA mixture from two people was obtained from the cigarette. Walko, relying on tests conducted by forensic scientists, argued DePaul was the major contributor to that DNA mixture profile.

“It’s hard to argue with DNA evidence and it was only the DNA evidence that was really linking him to this crime. But again, it was very strong, compelling evidence,” Walko said. “Essentially, there was more of the defendant’s DNA on the cigarette.”

Defense lawyers unsuccessfully implied to the jury that the unidentified second person whose DNA was discovered in the mixture on the cigarette was actually the burglar.

DePaul did not testify during the trial; however, his lawyers implied that DePaul had left the halfway house to attend a class at a Philadelphia technical school and could not have committed the burglary.

In December 2004, DePaul was sentenced to 4 ½ to nine years in state prison after he pleaded guilty to a robbery charge in connection with an April 13, 2004, holdup at the Sunoco A-Plus Mini Mart on Township Line Road in Abington. DePaul pointed a knife at the cashier and demanded money from the cash register, police said.

DePaul made off with about $79 in cash and a couple packs of cigarettes during the robbery, court documents indicate.

Follow Carl Hessler Jr. on Twitter @MontcoCourtNews

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