Teen suspect got crime tips viewing 'CSI'
A 14-year-old says he studied the CBS drama to gather tips for a career of crime. He is accused of more than 100 burglaries.
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published March 12, 2005
SEMINOLE - The burglar sat in the front seat of the unmarked squad car, proudly directing the detective to dozens of homes.
"Make a left here, make a right here," he told the detective during Thursday's tour. "We did this house, that house. Oh, we didn't do that house because we figured that person had a gun."
In all, the thief claimed responsibility for breaking into more than 100 cars and a few homes in Seminole, mostly this week.
How, the incredulous investigator asked, did he do it?
Easy, the 14-year-old replied. He watched CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Authorities say the boy told them he is a CSI junkie who studied the CBS drama to get the inspiration and know-how to launch a criminal career.
"He told us he doesn't watch it for enjoyment. He watches to learn how to commit crimes," said Detective Bill Sumner of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "He said he watches it religiously."
So confident was the boy that he congratulated deputies for cracking the case. "You guys are awesome," he told Sumner. "I can't believe you caught me."
Deputies are seeking two other boys, ages 13 and 14, said to be accomplices in the crimes, which targeted mainly cars but about 10 homes as well along the east side of Starkey Road from Park Boulevard N to 102nd Avenue. The boys used stolen bicycles to get around, Sumner said.
About $10,000 worth of merchandise has been recovered, the Sheriff's Office said.
Because of the boy's age, the Times is not publishing his name.
He was to be booked into the juvenile detention center on Friday on a felony charge of residential burglarly - for allegedly taking presents from under the Christmas tree at one home. The boy has no prior criminal record.
"There's a lot more charges to come, believe me," Sumner said. He said it would be up to prosecutors to determine if the boy should be charged as an adult.
A majority of the auto burglaries happened this week, Sumner said. After a slew of residents reported them, deputies fanned out across the neighborhood for clues.
One victim recalled seeing a boy wearing a gray T-shirt and holding a flashlight and another described the same boy running away from his truck about 5 a.m. Thursday.
"I felt pretty confident I had my suspect," Sumner said. Deputies went to the house where the boy lives. The boy was not home, but his sister let deputies inside.
In the boy's room they found a cache of stolen items: car and home stereos, mp3 players and cameras.
Under his mattress, they found $200 in change (swiped from cars) placed in socks.
The suspect never came home.
But another boy arrived as deputies waited. They spoke with him, and "he broke down and told us everything," Sumner said. "I asked him how many burglaries he committed, and he went back to last summer. He said he's the best burglar."
The youth lives with a relative, who could not be reached.
Despite the boy's interest in CSI, the methods he employed were decidedly low tech, officials say. He covered his hands with socks, Sumner said, and stayed away from cars that had flashing lights, indicating an alarm. All the cars he got inside were unlocked.
By watching the show, the boy said, he learned to be aware of fences he might have to jump. He also learned that, if being chased, he should go to a populated area to blend in. The shows, he said, helped him be more "stealthy."
He worried he slipped up when he left a bloody sock at one scene. "He thought he would be caught through DNA analysis," Sumner said. The boy cut his hand removing a large car speaker box.
Some of the items recovered were returned to owners.
Brenda Hazen, whose house was broken into just before Christmas, was not as fortunate. The boy told detectives he sold the items, including a camera and Xbox video game system, for $300 and used the money to buy marijuana and "party."
Hazen, 36, said the boy, a classmate of her son's at Osceola Middle School, had been to their house before. Detectives told her the boy knew that when her Isuzu Rodeo was gone, the house was probably empty.
"I'm a single mom, and I work my butt off to give my kids something nice," Hazen said. "And then it gets taken away from us. It's just sad."
Despite getting caught, the boy does not plan on going straight, Sumner said. "He said he's going to graduate to stealing cars."
Alex Leary can be reached at 727 893-8472 or email@example.com
[Last modified March 12, 2005, 01:01:34]