AZTEC — A San Juan County man was convicted of four counts of possession of stolen property for burglarizing a Durango family who was hospitalized after a home explosion.
A jury found Eric Bernard, 32, guilty of four fourth-degree felonies Wednesday after a day-long trial in front of District Judge William Birdsall in Aztec. Because of prior felony convictions, Bernard faces an enhanced sentence that will range from eight to 38 years in prison, said San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.
In February 2012, Durango residents Tim and Karen Kelley, as well as their daughter, were injured when a propane tank exploded and destroyed their home near Lemon Reservoir.
The family's plight received considerable attention in The Durango Herald, which Capshaw said gave Bernard and two other thieves a target.
"Once they learned the propane tank exploded and this couple was in the hospital, they knew the vulnerability existed and they could go up and prey on them," Capshaw said.
Investigators said Bernard -- along with Jerry Spinnichia, a 33-year-old from Ignacio, Colo., and his girlfriend, Ashley Moore -- hauled a trailer containing two off-highway vehicles and a snowmobile from the Kelleys' home to a friend's home in Aztec. The San Juan County Sheriff's Office found the trailer while searching for another off-highway vehicle that was stolen from a San Juan County man.
Bernard was convicted Wednesday of being in possession of those four stolen vehicles.
Spinnichia, who is serving a nine-year prison sentence in Colorado for stealing the Kelleys' vehicles, testified against Bernard on Wednesday. He described going to the family's home with Bernard and stealing the trailer.
"I'm pretty sure we were all on the same page," Spinnichia said of the burglary. "Everybody knew that the property didn't belong to us."
During cross examination, Bernard's attorney, Cosme Ripol, referred to Spinnichia's testimony as "snitching."
"I never talked to any detectives or anything. I'm the one that got put on the burner, and I didn't get caught with any property," Spinnichia said. "I 'fessed up to it and I'm doing my time."
After Bernard serves his sentence for the four felony convictions handed down Wednesday, he will be extradited to Colorado to face criminal charges for the theft of the vehicles.
The possession of stolen property charges were filed in New Mexico because the property was found here. The theft happened in Colorado, so Bernard will face the theft charges there.
Bernard was convicted of four felony burglary charges in 2000, a felony for possession of a controlled substance in 2005 and a felony burglary charge in 2008.
Because of his history and the nature of the most recent crime, Capshaw said he will ask Birdsall for a more than 20-year prison sentence at Bernard's sentencing hearing.
"He hasn't learned. He's been to (The New Mexico Department of Corrections) before and he has to go away longer this time," Capshaw said.Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.