Burglars' mistake was stopping to chat in homes, police say

February 14, 2010 

All was still in the darkened Powell home. Daybreak was hours away.

Asleep in her bed, Judy Powell woke up to a light flicked on in the study. Then the light went off.

Something or someone was shifting through the rooms of their house in Turnagain Heights. A bathroom light switched on, then off. She thought her son had come upstairs to get something.

The light turned on again, and she heard cabinet doors or drawers banging open and shut. Then a figure began moving into the bedroom.

"I'm awake, but not completely awake, and it's dark. So I start talking to this person," Powell recalled in an interview Friday, about the events two days earlier. "Then he starts having a conversation with me and it takes me a few minutes to realize that that is not my son."

It was the first in a pair of bizarre botched burglaries executed minutes apart last week by two chatty men who couldn't seem to let sleeping homeowners lie. Ejected from the Powell home, police say the suspects slipped into a Spenard home less than a half hour later, woke the owner when their attempt at stealth fell flat, and began talking to the owner as police closed in.

They couldn't elude capture, not even by hiding in a child's bedroom.

"They got all the way in the houses and people just sensed that somebody was there," police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said. "It's very seldom that we ever see that kind of thing. ... They'll check doors, but usually they'll do that when there's no one there."

The suspects, Brenton Kehoe, 20, and Gilberto Gutierrez, 18, are jailed on burglary and theft charges after the Wednesday morning capers.

THE FIRST INTRUSION

It began about 1:30 a.m. at the Powell home. Earlier, the Powells had used the grill on the back deck and forgotten to check that the back door was locked. It is a safe neighborhood, though. They didn't expect problems.

But then the figure appeared at the foot of their bed and began telling Powell two people were waiting for her outside. The scruffy-faced stranger was trying to lure her out.

"I'm going, 'Who are you? How'd you get into my house?' " Powell said. "At that point, I'm like, I want to get you out of my house because I don't know who you are or if you have friends with you that are in my house."

By that time, her husband, Eli Powell, a doctor and retired Air Force colonel, was awake with the same thoughts. Eli Powell's first impulse was that a drunken teenager had wandered into the wrong house.

"And that's why initially, to be honest, I wasn't more violent," he said. "I was worried it was some kid from the neighborhood who I didn't know."

He wasn't armed and said he didn't think about whether the intruder was either.

"Your adrenaline's going, it's 2 in the morning, just woke up and some dude's in your bedroom," Eli Powell said. "So I grabbed him and picked him up and kind of shoved him against the wall, said, 'Get out of my house.' Then I guess I grabbed him around the throat."

CALLING 911

The burglar, however, was in no hurry to leave and kept trying to strike up a conversation, they said. With Judy on the phone with 911, Eli dragged the intimidated intruder down to the front door, which was locked, paused to open it and tossed him out.

Eli said he noticed a digital camera around the stranger's neck and wondered what it was doing there. Later, he realized it was an old camera that had been collecting dust in the study, where the suspect had turned on the light. It appeared to be the only item the man had stolen.

Eli looked out and saw a second prowler at the end of the driveway. Instead of running away, however, the ejected burglar called for the other man to come up to the house, he said. The other man cursed and said, 'Let's get out of here,' " Eli said. They ran off toward the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, according to police.

He thought about chasing them, but didn't know if some other accomplice was still in the house, he said.

THE SECOND HOME

Police arrived and were still investigating at 1:59 a.m. when they got another report of a burglary in progress about a half mile away. Tracks led all the way from the Powells' home to this other home, according to an affidavit filed in court by Assistant District Attorney Dan Shorey.

At that home, Shawn Knudeson's family had also been asleep. She said she heard someone come in through the door, but thought maybe it was her son or husband. When she saw the beam of a flash light shining in her living room, however, she realized the family wasn't alone.

A man she later identified to police as Kehoe came into her bedroom. Knudeson was afraid, but tried to act confident.

"What's up?" she said.

"Are you ready? We've been waiting for 25 minutes," he said, according to police. She shook her head no.

"I've got Tammy and Brian and we are waiting for you. Do you want me to send in Tammy or Brian?" the burglar asked.

Knudeson picked Tammy, opting to deal with a woman if there was going to be trouble, police said. The man left the room and Knudeson called police.

"I didn't know exactly what his intentions were," Knudeson said. "Once I realized that he was basically harmless, wasn't out to do me any harm, I was able to relax, call the cops, try and get him out of here."

Moments later, the man was back, this time with a man police say was Gutierrez. Kehoe said he was looking for cocaine, according to police. He seemed disoriented, lost, like he was on something, Knudeson said.

"I said, 'You've got the wrong house. I don't know where you think you're supposed to be, but you've got the wrong house,' " Knudeson said.

THE ARRESTS

The cops arrived. One of the men saw them out front.

"(Kehoe's) buddy ran out the back door after the police were sighted," Parker said. "I think he decided that he would be safer staying inside and looking for an opportunity to bolt, but he never got it."

Police said they found Gutierrez standing in the driveway. The search for Kehoe was quick. An officer heard something shuffle inside the home and found him standing in a bedroom where Knudeson's 10-year-old had been sleeping but now was awake and frightened.

"He just hid under the covers, quaking, because he didn't know what was going on," Knudeson said.

Knudeson's ID and other belongings were recovered from Kehoe's pockets, police said. Gutierrez had her credit card and gift certificates. But Knudeson said she doesn't harbor any ill-will.

"I just hope the best for them, that they can turn it around before they keep going down the wrong road," she said.

Kehoe and Gutierrez are charged with two counts of first-degree burglary and a count each of second-degree theft and third-degree theft.

According to court records, Gutierrez has no criminal history, but Kehoe has a record of convictions for felony theft, criminal trespassing, resisting arrest and criminal mischief.

Both men remained in custody at the Anchorage jail with bail set at $5,000.

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