By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona man dubbed the "Rock Burglar", for using melon-sized rocks to break windows and enter homes of notable people such as former vice president Dan Quayle, was sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison on Wednesday, officials said.
Under the ruling from Judge Pamela Svoboda in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, Robert James Neese, 60, will have his prison sentence reduced by more than two years for time already served for the $10 million crime spree.
Neese was arrested by police in May 2011 after eluding capture in connection with the notorious burglaries of high-end homes owned by the rich and famous, including Quayle and ex-pro baseball players Mark Grace and Steve Finley.
In all, some 400 Phoenix-area homes were burglarized since he first struck three times in the wealthy enclave of Paradise Valley in 1993, police said.
Neese was convicted of multiple counts of burglary in April.
"Today's sentence should dispel any doubts about the commitment of this office to hold criminals accountable regardless of how long it may take," County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement.
Authorities said Neese would plan out his burglaries by watching for signs that a homeowner was gone, such as newspapers accumulating in the driveway, and then make his move. But there was no consistent pattern for when or where he would act.
After breaking windows with rocks and entering the homes, authorities said he would take items such as jewelry, cash and handguns and then flee within minutes. Master bathroom windows were targeted because they were often without alarms or sensors.
He proved an elusive foe for law enforcement. Police recovered two handguns taken during the burglaries, but could not tie them to an individual. In 1995, a homeowner caught the Rock Burglar in the act, but the man was able to escape after a brief struggle.
A $15,000 reward had been posted, and authorities spent tens of thousands of dollars on special operations to nab him.
He was arrested on May 15, 2011, after authorities were able to match his DNA and other physical evidence with that left at some of the crime scenes.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Ken Wills)