BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A Salem man was found guilty yesterday of breaking into a parked car last May and received a total of 18 months in jail.
Brian Belew, 28, who is homeless, had at one point insisted on testifying in his own defense.
But he changed his mind after learning from the judge that doing so could open the door for prosecutors to introduce much of his lengthy criminal record.
That record was part of the reason that Belew’s case ended up in Salem Superior Court, where Belew stood trial Monday and yesterday on charges of breaking and entering in the nighttime and larceny of $250 or less.
In the early morning hours of May 14, 2012, Belew, 28, and another man, Adam Cochrane, 24, were arrested after two officers saw them walking up and down Palmer Street, trying car doors and then entering a white Subaru.
Police had already moved the two, and a third man, Franklin Evans, away from a convenience store downtown after receiving calls about aggressive panhandling. They then saw Belew and Cochrane in several spots downtown and in the adjacent Point neighborhood during the night.
Police said Cochrane was seen walking toward a fence with something in his hand as they approached; they later found a TomTom GPS and power cords in that spot.
During Belew’s trial, defense lawyer Ronald Ranta argued to jurors that the officers “jumped to conclusions” when they saw Belew.
He also argued that it was a case of “guilt by association.”
“We know what Adam Cochrane did,” said Ranta, who argued that it was implausible that police could have seen Belew from where one officer was stationed, near Congress Street, behind a 6-foot fence, some playground equipment and trees.
But prosecutor Jen Kirshenbaum argued that both men are guilty, saying that even if Belew didn’t have the items in his hands, he certainly took part in the effort to steal from cars that night.
“Detective (Daniel) Tucker saw this defendant walking up and down the street, looking into car windows and trying doors,” Kirshenbaum told the jury.
The pair acted as a team, she said.
Belew received credit for 344 days he’s spent in custody awaiting trial, according to the court clerk’s records.
Cochrane was not indicted in the case; he was placed on probation in District Court after the incident. Yesterday, he failed to appear for a scheduled drug test, and a warrant was issued.
He was arrested around 1:30 p.m. when officers spotted him on Lafayette Street.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.