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Booher pleads guilty to 23 burglaries

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008

A Kittanning man pleaded guilty Monday to 23 counts of burglary in a four-county crime spree last year.

Several victims watched in court yesterday as Michael Todd Booher, 24, of 1152 Orr Ave., acknowledged burglarizing 23 homes in Allegheny, Armstrong, Indiana and Westmoreland counties between Feb. 23, 2007, and April 16, 2007. Four men allegedly helped Booher in some, but not all of the burglaries.

Booher, who has been described by police as the mastermind, pleaded guilty to the same agreement in December 2007 and withdrew his plea in February 2008.

Yesterday's proceedings were the result of Judge Kenneth Valasek denying the defense's request to file pretrial motions in May, according to Booher's attorney, Gregory Swank.

The request was denied by Valasek because the motions — seeking the suppression of statements — were filed after the lawful deadline, 30 days after formal arraignment. The denial made the case “problematic” to try, Swank said.

District Attorney Scott Andreassi said yesterday he was pleased that the agreement was reached and that it saves time preparing for trial.

The 23 counts of burglary are first-degree felonies and carry a maximum penalty of 20 years each. A pre-sentence investigation completed by the probation department after Booher's original plea recommends a 12- to 24-year sentence, Andreassi said.

Booher is scheduled for sentencing at 1 p.m. Friday.

Swank said Booher plans to file an appeal under the Post- Conviction Relief Act. Petitioners can argue violation of constitution rights under the act, such as ineffective assistance of counsel, an issue Swank said Booher plans to raise.

The defendant was originally represented by James Andring following his arraignment in July 2007. Attorney Joseph Caruso was appointed by the court October 2007 and represented Booher during the original plea in December and withdrawal hearing in February. Swank took over after the withdrawal hearing.

During a hearing held to determine whether Booher would be allowed to withdraw his original guilty plea, the defendant testified that he is innocent of some of the crimes of which he is accused. He testified that police violated his rights during questioning.

“I don't think he would change his position on anything he's said,” Swank said.

According to a criminal complaint, stolen items include about $26,000 worth of computers, jewelry, guns, video game systems, prescription medication, cameras, DVDs and money. At least $2,000 in damages were caused during the break-ins, according the complaint.

According to police, Booher accompanied state troopers on drives to the various residences he is accused of burglarizing and gave the troopers statements about each. Police said at the time of the preliminary hearing that drugs played a part in the burglaries.

Numerous counts of criminal conspiracy, theft by unlawful taking or disposition, receiving stolen property, theft from a motor vehicle and criminal mischief against Booher will be withdrawn, Andreassi said.

Two alleged accomplices are expected to plead guilty, he said. The other two have been sentenced for their involvement.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the case:

• Jeremy Todd King, 28, of Kittanning was involved in one Westmoreland County burglary and two Allegheny County burglaries. He is awaiting plea court.

• Shawn William Nickel, 24, of Cowansville was involved in one Indiana County burglary. He was sentenced in April and released on parole in May, according to court documents.

• Stuart McClain Petrie, 25, of Kittanning was involved in one Armstrong County burglary. He was sentenced in January.

• Karl Edward Walker, 23, of Kittanning was involved in one Armstrong County burglary. He is awaiting plea court.

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