SALEM — At the start of every trial, jurors are told to “hearken to the evidence.”
But that wasn’t enough in a case pinned on the hope that jurors would recognize a suspect’s “jug ears” on a grainy surveillance video.
A Salem District Court judge yesterday concluded that since he couldn’t, the jury was also unlikely to be able to identify Justin Smith or his co-defendant, Curtis McDermott.
Judge Robert Brennan, in a rare move, opted to end the trial at the conclusion of the prosecution’s case by allowing a motion by the defense for a finding of “not guilty.”
Smith, 24, of 21 Essex St., and McDermott, 20, of 21 Harbor St., both in Salem, were charged along with Smith’s brother-in-law, Michael Politano Jr., 30, with burglarizing dozens of storage lockers last year at the Public Storage warehouse on Goodhue Street.
The thefts were discovered on the morning of April 24 by a manager shortly after she arrived for work.
She and police quickly identified Politano as a suspect, after noticing surveillance video of a box truck with Politano’s name emblazoned on the side. They later found nearly 150 items, including computers, appliances, bikes, a gas grill and space heaters, which they believed to have been taken from the 35 ransacked storage lockers in the facility.
Days before the thefts, Politano rented a storage unit there himself, a manager of the business testified yesterday. Shortly after that, he called the company, saying he was locked in because the place had closed for the night.
The company gave him a special code to activate the gate, which allowed him to get out, police say, but also would have allowed him to get back in a few nights later.
Politano, questioned by police, allegedly fingered Smith and McDermott, claiming that he didn’t know the stuff they were putting into the truck was stolen.