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When Shaw resident Paul Williams goes shopping for music or hardware these days, a refreshing notion overtakes him: He may actually be able to hang onto his purchases for a few years. Most folks might take that for granted, but for Williamsone of the city’s most chronic burglary victimsit’s a newfound sense of security.
From July 1995 through October 1996, Williams says his trusty neighborhood burglar paid 10 visits to his house, which is located on the 1800 block of Vermont Avenue NW. Sometimes the burglar just smashed a window, tripped the alarm, and fled. Other visits were more fruitfullike Memorial Day weekend 1996, when the burglar snared $2,000 in CDs and power tools. In the spirit of the holiday, the burglar even cracked one of Williams’ beers, leaving the emptyand his fingerprintson the stovetop.
The madness ended in early October 1996, when the police hauled in Shaw resident John Chaplin for a burglary at 941 T St. NW. Eon Rambharan, who lived in the basement of the T Street house, picked Chaplin’s mug out of a photo array after encountering him twice at his home. The arrest culminated in Chaplin’s January conviction and a May 12 hearing in which Chaplin was sentenced to nine to 28 years in prison.
Abby Stavitsky, the federal prosecutor who handled the case, says Chaplin was a suspect in many other Shaw burglaries in recent years. The January conviction, however, rested solely on Rambharan’s ability to pick out Chaplin’s face “without hesitation” from an assortment of alleged perps. Rambharan first met Chaplin on the night of last Sept. 6, when he looked out from his bedroom to find Chaplin hunched over his living-room TV set. Rambharan jumped out of bed and pushed Chaplin, who lifted a hammer to threaten Rambharan before fleeing.
Just in case Rambharan didn’t get a good look the first time around, the two faced off in a rematch one month later. Rambharan found Chaplin fiddling with his front door when he returned home late on the night of Oct. 6. This time, the two wrestled a bit, and Chaplin jabbed Rambharan in the back a couple of times with a screwdriver before taking off.
Stavitsky says Chaplin will be eligible for parole after nine years, minus any educational credits he acquires during his sentence.
Williams, Rambharan, and their Shaw neighbors will savor every last day of Chaplin’s term behind bars. “We’re very happy,” says Andrea Carlson, a member of the Cardozo-Shaw Neighborhood Association. “Anecdotally, we haven’t heard of any more burglaries since he’s been incarcerated. It certainly has made a dent.”
Williams suspects Chaplin was the perp behind all 10 unauthorized visits to his house and has positive evidence in two cases. Police traced Chaplin’s fingerprints to the beer bottle from the Memorial Day incident and to household items from the July 1995 break-in. Chaplin is due to appear in court for those offenses this summer, but prosecutors are still deciding whether to proceed with the case.
“It’s a nice feeling,” says Williams. “I’ll feel safe until 2004, or whenever he gets out of jail. It’ll give me a chance to build up my CD collection and everything else.”CP