The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 12, 2013

Suspect guilty of theft in Westmont case

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

EBENSBURG — A Cambria County jury deliberated more than four hours Tuesday before reaching a split verdict for a man charged with burglarizing a Westmont home and walking off with nearly $9,000 in cash.

The jury convicted James Douglas Brages, 39, of theft by unlawful taking, theft by receiving stolen property and possessing instruments of crime in the June 5 burglary of a home on the 1100 block of Edgehill Drive.

Brages, who was believed to be from Harrisburg but testified Tuesday that he is from Milford, Conn., was acquitted of burglary and criminal trespass.

Cambria County Judge Patrick Kiniry set Brages’ sentencing for March 12. He was returned to the county prison, where he has been held since his arrest the day of the burglary.

Following the verdict, Assistant District Attorney Joseph R. Green told the victim, who questioned the split verdict: “Your money comes back to you.”

Brages took the stand as the only defense witness and told the jury he was in Johnstown waiting for work on a school roofing project in Armagh when he decided to ride his bicycle in the area of the Inclined Plane.

He said he was only asking directions to a bike trail when he rang the bell and turned the doorknob of a home near the victim’s. After being sent away, the homeowner contacted West Hills Regional Police about a suspicious man wearing dark clothes with a backpack and riding a bike.

As defense attorney, Patricia Moore pulled a number of tools and equipment from the backpack in front of the jury. Brages described each and how he would use them in the roofing trade.

As for the nearly $9,000 in cash and $55 in rolled coins, Brages said he received much of the money as an income tax return. The rest he earned by making $18 an hour in the roofing industry, he said.

“I keep cash. I keep what I have on me,” he told the jury.

The loss of the money was discovered a day later by the victim when he went into a security box to get money to make a co-payment for his wife’s doctor.

Missing, the victim testified Monday, was just under $9,000 in cash and $55 in rolled quarters and dimes.

In her closing argument, Moore said Brages’ biggest crime was in wearing dark clothes and not yuppy gear when he rode his bike through Westmont.

“It’s not fair. It’s not appropriate to convict Mr. Brages because he decided to bicycle up into Old Westmont wearing his roofer clothing,” she said.

Green, in his closing, said there were far too many coincidences in Brages’ story to be believable.

He cited the numerous people who spotted the defendant on the day of the burglary just biking around the area, the monetary amounts found in Brages’ pants’ pockets and the contents of the backpack – tools and equipment similar to the types used by burglars.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.