For Will Belknap, it wasn’t just $4,000 to $6,000 worth of electronics that the burglar who invaded his home stole — it was his class ring, the key chain he’s had since his 16th birthday and a keepsake box.
“There’s just some things you cannot replace,” Belknap said, noting the burglar took the pillowcases off his bed and ransacked the home while he and his family were at his 9-year-old daughter’s birthday party.
For business owner Anna Hoke, the burglar stole her expensive professional camera and lenses, which were damaged upon their eventual return. More upsetting was the loss of her wedding and engagement ring. She had taken them off before she went to the gym and came back to find her home raided. The burglar even stole Christmas presents that had been wrapped under the newlyweds’ Christmas tree.
Julie Leary was 10 hours from taking a trip to Canada to visit her cousin when she realized her passport and purse were missing from the kitchen table. After frantically looking for it, she had to cancel her trip. The burglar also stole her computer, which contained personal family photographs including pictures from the “once in a lifetime” trip to Ireland she took with her mother.
“I’ve learned to back-up things on the computer since then,” Leary’s husband David Budbill joked on the witness stand.
One by one, the victims of a string of home invasions in the Mendenhall Valley two years ago took to the witness stand and confronted the convicted burglar, 31-year-old Joseph A.S. Allen, during his sentencing hearing on Saturday. Prosecutors requested that the hearing take place over the weekend when the victims had the day off work so they could “finally get their day in court,” Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp said.
Kemp said it was nearly impossible to count the number of people affected by the burglaries. Ten people were listed as victims in the indictment reached against Allen last year. Eighteen showed up in court Saturday.
Those in the packed courtroom watched as Allen was sentenced by Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez for the crimes Allen admitted to committing in November and December 2011, during a time when he was addicted to bath salts and methamphetamine. Allen received three years in prison with one and a half years suspended for each of the burglaries against four of the victims.
But the focus of the sentencing hearing was on the worst of all the crimes committed during the “drug-addled spree,” as his defense attorney put it — assaulting and robbing a woman at gunpoint while she was at home with her two children. Allen received 10 years with three years suspended for that offense, bringing his composite sentence to 22 years in prison with nine years suspended. That’s 13 years to serve. He will also be required to serve 10 years of probation after his release from prison.
The woman, Jacquelli Ziegenfuss, testified that her husband just left the house the morning after Christmas 2011 when she felt a tap on her shoulder while sitting on the couch. Assuming it was her husband who forgot something, Ziegenfuss turned around and instead faced a man wearing a black ski mask who was armed with a gun and a can of mace. The gun was later determined to be a BB gun, which she did not know at the time.
The man knocked her down in the kitchen and slammed her on the wooden floor, a scene that Ziegenfuss’ 6-year-old daughter witnessed from the upstairs balcony. The daughter and her 4-year-old brother hid in a closet as they heard their mother scream.
Ziegenfuss testified that she thought she was going to be sexually assaulted or killed — the man had her on her back with her hands restrained above her head. She said once that realization kicked in, she fought him and managed to escape. She fled to two neighboring houses on Thunder Street, but both were locked. She zigzagged across the street and finally found a neighbor at home. Ziegenfuss convinced the man at that house to come back with her to her home because her kids were still inside with the intruder, a horrifying thought, she said. Meanwhile, the woman at the neighbor’s house called 911.
Allen took Ziegenfuss’ purse, car keys and car during that time, and he was gone before police arrived. Police found him the next day and arrested him on unrelated property crime charges for burglarizing another local couple.
In her victim impact statement, Ziegenfuss said the traumatic experience has had a lasting psychological impact on her and her family. She said the children were terrified and still sleep in her and her husband’s bedroom. Despite the fact that they changed all their doors and locks and installed a home security system, they ended up selling their house because they still don’t feel safe. Ziegenfuss said she still copes with the anxiety of being at home alone and even had to request a voluntary demotion at her job because she not handle traveling alone on business trips.
“Needless to say, this crime has had an enormous financial and emotional impact on our family,” Ziegenfuss said in court. “Mr. Allen stole many things that day, some of them irreplaceable valuables, but more importantly, he stole the sanctity of home, trust in humanity, activities we once enjoyed, and joy and happiness that comes with the holiday season. We work hard to restore these things in our lives each day.”
Ziegenfuss noted that she later discovered a disturbing fact — Allen had been in her home’s garage and waited for Ziegenfuss’ husband to leave the house before his attack. Also disturbing was the fact that Allen had two children who had played with her children before.
“He wasn’t a stranger,” she said, noting that while they did not know each other directly, they were in the same indirect social circles.
Because of the seriousness of the incident and because of Allen’s criminal history, ADA Kemp requested Allen receive 29 years in prison with nine years suspended. When she announced that in court, some of the victims nodded their heads in approval.
“If this is the range we’re talking about, I’m happy,” Belknap said.
The defense attorney, Christopher Cyphers, requested 20 years with 10 years suspended, plus 10 years probation. Cyphers asked the judge to consider rehabilitation in the sentence, saying that his client has gotten sober while incarcerated and is addressing his anger issues by taking courses in jail. Cyphers noted that one day Allen wants to “come back to the community,” a comment that elicited an audible scoff from Juneau District Attorney James Scott, who was observing from the back of the courtroom. Scott’s predecessor, David Brower, who retired earlier this year, also attended the hearing and watched from the back row.
Judge Menendez said that rehabilitation was “last on his list” of factors to consider while fashioning a sentence. Top of the list, he said, was isolation due to Allen’s “anti-social, out of control and dangerous” behavior.
“I consider you to be a dangerous person,” Menendez told Allen, “I consider that if you got out of jail today, the likelihood you would re-offend would be great. I believe that I must protect society from you.”
Menendez found Allen to be a “worst offender” given his criminal history, which includes assaultive and burglarizing behavior. The judge said Allen has been in and out of the system since he was 12 years old, and that his behavior has not changed much. Allen was convicted as a juvenile for robbing the Home Liquor store and beating up the store employee in 1996. Particularly noteworthy, the judge said, was that Allen beat the employee up after he had stole the $1,000 from him, not before. The employee was hospitalized with a broken nose and eye socket. Menendez described that incident as “savage and senseless.” The judge also noted that Allen has been offered help countless times in the past while incarcerated, but that he has also chosen to refuse it.
Before he was sentenced, Allen took the witness stand and apologized to the victims. He said he pleaded guilty to the crimes in August because he wanted to take responsibility for what he did, even though it took him a year and a half to get to that point.
“I’m extremely ashamed and embarrassed of all these things that I have done to each and every one of you,” he said to the crowd, adding that his drug addiction was not an excuse but should help them understand his mental state at the time.
He extended a personal apology to Ziegenfuss, saying, “I have children, I couldn’t even imagine if my children were in that situation.”
He added, “I’m not asking for forgiveness, I just want you to know that I am really sorry.”
Some of the victims said they could not forgive Allen. Almost all of them had their house and car keys stolen and lived in constant fear that Allen would strike again. Like Ziegenfuss, they said the psychological impact of having someone come into their home without permission and touch and steal all their things has affected them. One victim said it made her bitter, a trait she didn’t want to have. Another expressed anger. Almost all reported that they have developed paranoia, or some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to checking their locks at their home.
When asked what she thought of Allen’s apology, Ziegenfuss responded, “It seemed sincere but it doesn’t take away the trauma and the impact and the hurt that he has caused.” She noted that she still hasn’t seen his letter of apology which was supposed to have arrived before the sentencing.
“Everybody’s sorry at sentencing,” her husband observed.
Allen’s prison sentence is in addition to the sentences he has already received for burglarizing two homes in the same time frame — one home on Oct. 26, 2011, and another on Dec. 19, 2011. He was sentenced to serve 12 and 15 months, respectively, in connection to those cases, which were tried separately.
Kemp said she hoped Saturday’s hearing would help provide the victims closure and allow them to heal and move on with their lives.
“It was good, it was fair,” one of the victims, Shonda Belknap, said of the sentence. “I’m happy.
Ziegenfuss said she felt a little disappointed Allen did not received the maximum punishment prosecutors asked for, but that she’s relieved the legal proceedings are over. She said hopefully she’ll be able to move on.
“Time will tell,” she said.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.