By MARY RAINWATER
After deliberating approximately 45 minutes, an Anderson County jury sentenced Gary Dewayne Robertson, 40, of Jacksonville and Palestine, to 50 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for burglarizing a Palestine automobile business on Nov. 21, 2011.
The jury reached its decision at 6 p.m. Wednesday after finding Robertson guilty of burglary of habitation earlier in the afternoon.
Burglary of habitation is a second degree felony which carries a possible punishment of up to 20 years in prison. However, because Robertson had two prior felonies, the range of punishment was increased to a minimum of 25 years up to a maximum of 99 years or life.
“Robertson’s five felony convictions, two prison sentences, and numerous misdemeanor charges may have played a part in the lengthy sentence,” said District Attorney Doug Lowe, who assisted First Assistant Stanley Sokolowski in the trial.
Wednesday’s verdict concluded the trial of Robertson, who was caught by Anderson County Sheriff’s deputies the morning of the burglary while the man and an accomplice appeared to be returning to the scene of the crime.
The burglary occurred in the early morning hours of the Nov. 21 at Montee’s Auto World, which is located on U.S. Highway 84 just east of Palestine off of Loop 256. The business, which sells and repairs motorcycle parts and equipment, is owned by local businessman Montee Poole.
Poole, who testified both in the guilt-innocence and punishment phases of the trial, described how the crime had cost him both financially and emotionally.
“Part of my family’s Christmas presents last year were five security systems,” Poole said, “plus I upgraded my surveillance cameras to work better in low light.
“I try not to go back to the shop at night unless I have to and I don’t let my wife or daughter go back after dark unless I’m with them,” he added. “I definitely won’t spend the night there again.”
Poole also recalled an incident that occurred after the break-in last year as he was working late at his business. While inside a car, the wind blew a paper bag up against his leg.
“I about broke my neck to get out of the car, thinking someone had broken into the shop again,” Poole said.
Robertson’s cousin Kellie Strong testified on behalf of the defendant on Wednesday.
“Gary has always stole (sic), even as a kid he took things that didn’t belong him,” she said. “But, he’s never hurt anyone or been violent.”
Strong also requested that he health of Robertson’s seriously ill daughter be considered in the sentencing.
“(His daughter) has a heart condition and has already lived longer than she was supposed to,” Strong said, “and he needs to have some time with her.”
In cross examination, Sokolowski pointed out that Robertson “wasn’t thinking about her condition when he broke into Poole’s business in the middle of the night.”
In jury arguments prior to the verdict announcement, Robertson’s attorney Colin McFall contended that if his client was guilty, he was only guilty of burglary of a building, a state jail felony with a maximum punishment of 2 years in prison.
“The business didn’t meet the legal definition of a ‘habitation,’” he told the jury. “Just because you have a fold out couch, a kitchen or shower doesn’t make it a ‘habitation.’”
Despite those arguments, the jury sided with the prosecution, finding that Poole had adapted his business for overnight accommodation.
In August, Lowe announced a joint effort with the Palestine Police Department, Anderson County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies called, “The Top Five” targeting repeat offenders with a history of burglary related offenses.
“Although, Robertson was not one of our ‘Top Five’ burglary suspects, the jury’s verdict shows how people feel about people who break into their homes,” Lowe said about the verdict. “They’re upset past the point of tolerance.”
District Judge Mark Calhoon presided over the trial at the Anderson County Courthouse. The Robertson’s co-defendant, 42-year-old Chad Beck of Jacksonville is scheduled to go on trial for the offense later this year.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com