14-minute burglary verdict reinforces that open door is not an open invitation

A jury took 14 minutes Tuesday to return a guilty-as-charged verdict against a man who entered another man’s garage and smashed his car’s windshield with a hammer, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Lee Daniels, 36, was found guilty of Burglary of an Occupied Dwelling and Criminal Mischief ($1,000 or greater) after a one-day trial. Circuit Judge Brandon Young set sentencing for Aug. 2.

Prosecutor Dustin Miller in court during an earlier trial.

Lead Prosecutor Dustin Miller told jurors during closing statements that, by law, an attached garage is part of a home and has the same protections.

RELATED NEWS: “Road rage” shooting lands 40-year sentence

RELATED NEWS: 90-year sentence for man who pulled gun on officer

He asked jurors to use their “God-given common sense” and reject the defendant’s argument that he was only trespassing on Dec. 3, 2019, the day of his arrest.

After the trial, Prosecutor Miller explained that an open garage door is no more an invitation to enter than is the open front door of a home.

“Just because you open your garage door, it does not make your house or garage open to the public,” Miller said. “It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense. Your garage door being open doesn’t change the nature of your home, it’s still your dwelling.”

Miller and Prosecutor Nicole Reed presented evidence and two witnesses – the victim and

Panama City Police Detective Matthew Kelly – proving that the defendant committed a burglary when he entered the victim’s garage to vandalize his car with a hammer.

The defendant was upset with the victim when he walked into his garage after seeing the door open and used a hammer to hit the windshield of the victim’s car at least three times, the State proved.

The victim, who knew the defendant from the neighborhood, heard the noise, walked to the garage to investigate and the two saw each other. The defendant then fled, but was captured a short time later.

At sentencing, the defendant faces up to 15 years for Burglary of a Dwelling and up to 5 years for Criminal Mischief.

Basford thanked Kelly, the Panama City Police Department, and other witnesses and neighbors who were prepared to testify if needed.

For additional information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.