Career criminal Bryan K. Colon did not count on the 85-year-old widow from Elma still upset that he stole her wedding ring in 2012.
And he didn’t count on the 91-year-old Grand Island woman who still remembers seeing his face in her window more than five years ago — when he was casing her house.
Colon, 38, scored a brief victory in June 2017, when the Appellate Division vacated his 2014 guilty plea for six suburban burglaries. But it won't keep him out of prison now.
An Erie County jury this week found Colon guilty on all six counts of second-degree burglary. The two-week trial included testimony from the two women as well as eyewitnesses, police and even acquaintances of Colon’s.
Jurors found the evidence overwhelming that Colon and an accomplice spent a few weeks in August and September 2012 driving around neighborhoods in the Buffalo suburbs looking for likely homes, and then, after picking places at random, brazenly breaking in.
According to prosecutors, Colon usually liked places set back from the road, perhaps with some tree cover, and no cars in the driveway. He'd hop out of the van his friend drove, go around the back of the house, check the windows and, if he didn't see anyone, force his way in and take whatever he could carry. Then he’d call his accomplice – using the home's phone – to drive back around and pick him up.
Along with Grand Island and Elma, they hit houses in Akron, Newstead, Amherst and Clarence.
Altogether, prosecutors estimate Colon stole about $45,000 worth of cash, jewelry, electronics and other valuables. Some of the loot was recovered from pawn shops; other items, like the widow’s wedding ring, were already gone.
After his first conviction, Judge Sheila A. DiTullio sentenced Colon to 15 years in prison, largely because of the emotional distress that she said he caused his victims and their families.
At the time, Colon apologized. He pointed out that he only stole things and never hurt anyone.
But Colon soon began to work on an appeal of his conviction, presenting a laundry list of issues to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department of State Supreme Court.
All but one of arguments were rejected. The judges dismissed Colon’s contention that physical evidence and statements connecting him to the crimes should have been suppressed, and that some alleged “false testimony” by a witness should have been corrected. He also argued that deputies had not received proper consent to conduct searches of places he lived with his father and girlfriend, but the judges pointed out that Colon’s girlfriend and father let the deputies in.
The appellate judges, however, found DiTullio should have granted Colon’s request in 2014 to withdraw his guilty plea before he was sentenced. They determined that Colon incorrectly was assured that he could appeal the admissibility of the grand jury evidence against him even if he pleaded guilty to the charges.
On that basis, his conviction was vacated in June 2017 and his case came back to be prosecuted again.
After his arrest in October 2012, he spent more than a year and a half trying to get the evidence against him suppressed, firing three court-appointed attorneys in the process and eventually representing himself, with the assistance of a fourth court-appointed attorney.
For this return visit, he had one attorney assigned initially and then another when he went to trial.
The trial was before DiTullio, the same judge who accepted his plea more than three years ago.
The prosecutor who previously handled Colon’s case is now in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, so it was up to Assistant District Attorneys Patrick Shanahan and John Gerken to go back through the evidence and track down the witnesses.
They left nothing to chance, presenting more than 30 witnesses, along with photos, cellphone records and other physical evidence.
The jury heard how Colon’s spree began Aug. 7, 2012, with break-ins at homes in Akron and Clarence. On Aug. 26, 2012, he hit a house in Amherst, and five days after that a woman in Newstead came home to find Colon in her kitchen. When he broke into the Elma home on Sept. 7, a neighbor got his license plate number and police tracked him down to his Niagara Street apartment.
Even that didn’t scare him off, according to earlier accounts of his crimes. He escaped by jumping off a balcony and committed a sixth burglary on Sept. 23, 2012, on Grand Island, where the next-door neighbor, now in her 90s, saw him at her window.
Police captured him at his apartment on Oct. 3, 2012.
With this week’s conviction, Colon will be resentenced, taking into account that he is a second felony offender.
According to the original prosecutor, Colon was first arrested when he was 13, and, at 14, he led police on a high-speed chase. At age 16, he was convicted as an adult for possessing a loaded gun. While out on bail on that charge, he abducted a man on the West Side in front of two police officers, and fired shots at the officers during the subsequent chase.
He was convicted of first-degree robbery in that incident and went on to serve 10 years in prison.
Though that will figure into his sentence for the burglaries, it is unlikely Colon will receive the maximum possible penalty of 90 years in prison. At his last sentencing, the judge made it clear how she perceives him.
“You have proven you are a violent criminal and thief,” she told him then. “There is no doubt you are a clear danger to the community.”
He returns for sentencing before her on April 17.