PHOENIX (AP) — An elusive thief who stole millions of dollars in cash and jewelry from hundreds of Phoenix-area homes over nearly two decades by using rocks to smash through windows was sentenced Wednesday to more than 20 years in prison.
Robert James Neese, 60, of Mayer, Ariz., dubbed the "Rock Burglar," pleaded with the judge to show leniency after his attorney described his troubled childhood, limited education and lack of violent history.
"I want to apologize to the victims. I'm really sorry. I deserve to go to prison. I just don't deserve to die there," Neese said in court Wednesday.
Maricopa County Judge Pamela Svoboda had little to say to Neese, aside from meticulously reciting each count against him and issuing a complex sentence that included multiple prison terms, some to be served consecutively, some concurrently.
In total, less about two years credit for time he has already been behind bars since his arrest, Neese was sentenced to just over 20 years in prison.
Authorities believe Neese was responsible for hundreds of burglaries in affluent neighborhoods dating back to the mid-1990s, including former Vice President Dan Quayle's residence. However, they were only able to connect him using DNA to a string of break-ins starting in 1999.
He was convicted of multiple counts of burglary and other charges in April, then later pleaded guilty to similar charges in a separate 2011 case.
"The only thing that stopped the defendant was the fact that he got arrested," prosecutor Mitchell Rand told the judge. "Twenty years of burglaries. That's what we're talking about ... This is probably the most prolific burglar that we've had in the state of Arizona."
Rand said Neese was also smart, only stealing items from the master bedrooms and bathrooms where burglar alarms weren't active.
"Most people don't have their master bathroom, master bedroom alarmed because if they have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom it would set that off," Rand said. "The defendant preyed on those weaknesses."
In emotional testimony, her voice cracking, Gail Gordon described for the judge the sentimental value of roughly $30,000 worth of jewelry stolen from her home in 1996, including her grandmother's silver locket and a gold bracelet she bought herself after having survived cancer.
"I could talk for hours. Seventeen years later I could describe pages and pages of these items that were taken that all had meaning attached to them," Gordon said. "I would give up everything to get any of that back, the meaningful stuff."
Police said the case against Neese took nearly a decade to put together. They had DNA collected from some of the homes, but no one in the system to match it to. Prosecutors obtained a 15-count indictment in 2005 naming "John Doe" as the suspect based on the DNA evidence. Another break came in 2011 when authorities say Neese left behind footprints while stealing more than $12,000 in items from a house.
A month later, Neese was arrested for possessing burglary tools, and police matched his DNA and footprints to the crime scenes.