Juneau man testifies in brewery burglary case

By January 19, 2012Crime & Courts

Testimony and evidence were presented Wednesday in the case of a Juneau man accused of using a stolen vehicle to smash open the front of a local brewery and steal beer.

Michael Rae, 54, is accused of theft, burglary, criminal mischief, and vehicle theft in connection with the April 29th incident at Alaskan Brewing Company.

Before the ten-woman, four-man jury was brought in Wednesday, the trial got off to a rocky start with Rae again speaking out of turn and challenging the judge.

“Remove yourself from the bench, please,” said Rae. “You’re biased and prejudiced, sir.”

Recently-installed Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez warned Rae that further outbursts would not be tolerated. Menendez referenced an earlier Alaska case in which a defiant and disruptive defendant was removed from the courtroom during his own trial.

“If you don’t proceed in a polite fashion, (then) you’ll be have to be removed from the courtroom,” Menendez warned.

Later during opening arguments, District Attorney Dave Brower said prosecutors had the person responsible for the brewery smash-and-grab.

“The evidence that is going to be shown to you today is going to show that Mr. Rae drove the Breeze-In vehicle into the Alaska Brewery, and took beer out of it, and drove it to trailer number 46, and then left back again,” Brower said.

Appointed defense attorney Kevin Higgins said the prosecution’s evidence linking Rae to the crime was weak and hinged on a single witness who was not credible.

”When you consider the major links in this case between the fact that a crime was committed and Mr. Rae, what you’re going to be left with is the testimony of one man,” suggested Higgins.

Brewery employees testified to a Breeze-In box- or cube-van in the area in the early morning hours of April 29th and damage to the front of the gift shop and tasting room when they arrived at work. A bumper from the stolen truck was recovered from in front of the brewery.

One Lemon Creek Breeze-In employee testified that she spotted the truck parked near Gruening Park later that morning and had asked if another employee had borrowed it for personal use overnight. No one could identify the driver of the van, or the person who rammed it into the brewery.

Most of the testimony from the two local businesses centered on setting the value of the theft and damages, which is important for severity of the charges. Two small five-gallon kegs, several six-packs, and a case of beer, totaling just over $500, were reported stolen from the gift shop and tasting room. Repairs to the damaged brewery building came to about $4,500. Repairs to the truck cost $8,960.

The only testimony so far allegedly linking Rae to the crime came from John McGillis, who was sleeping in his van in front of Switzer Village trailer number 46. It was his birthday on April 29th and he’d been kicked out of the trailer by Rae the night before. He reported someone who appeared to be Rae driving up to the trailer early in the morning, getting out of the Breeze-In truck, and hurriedly unloading several kegs before driving off. McGillis believed that Rae returned shortly on foot.

“You were fairly angry that (Rae) kicked you out?” Higgins asked. “I wasn’t pleased,” answered McGillis.

After the jury was excused for the day, a mini-evidentiary hearing was held for Judge Menendez to consider pictures of beer bottles and broken glass taken outside of the Switzer Village trailer during Rae’s arrest. The pictures showed several varieties of beer produced by Alaskan Brewing Company. Officers had applied for a search warrant for inside the trailer, but evidence obtained from serving the warrant has been suppressed since there was no record of the warrant application hearing. Wednesday’s evidentiary hearing included Judge Menendez questioning Detective Krag Campbell on the witness stand.

“Are you saying that if you didn’t have a search warrant and you had gone to dwelling at number 46, it’d been your intention to arrest Mr. Rae?” asked Menendez.

“Yes,” answered Detective Campbell, who referred to the visible beer bottles, McGillis’ statements, and still-to-be introduced footage from Walmart security cameras.

Judge Menendez must make the final call whether the pictures taken outside the trailer reflect items seen in “plain view” and are appropriate evidence to be shown to the jury.

The trial resumes Thursday morning. Closing arguments and jury deliberations are expected to get underway later Thursday.

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