BEVERLY — It wasn't just the jewelry, silverware or electronics that Michael Crotty took from eight North Shore homes, including one in Essex.
It was, Salem Superior Court Judge Timothy Feeley said Wednesday, a sense of security that he also stole from those families, during a spree in November and December 2010 that carried through Essex, Wenham, Beverly, Hamilton, Boxford and Georgetown.
"I do take into account the very real impact and emotional damage caused by this conduct," Feeley said during Crotty's sentencing Wednesday. "The one place where you feel safe and secure is no longer viewed in the same way."
Crotty, 30, of Beverly, was sentenced to six to seven years in state prison by Feeley, who accepted a plea agreement worked out between prosecutor John Brennan and defense lawyer John Morris.
Crotty pleaded guilty to multiple counts of breaking and entering and receiving stolen property, as well as larceny from a building. He also pleaded guilty to drug charges, including possession of heroin and a prescription drug, suboxone, both with intent to distribute, and possessing two other prescription drugs.
Brennan told the judge that the plea will spare the witnesses — including two young children who walked into their home to find Crotty charging down the stairs with a bag full of their mom's jewelry — from having to relive the trauma of finding that their homes had been burglarized.
"It goes without saying that this strikes probably the deepest part of our security, when our homes are broken into," Brennan said. "It's not just the financial loss, but there was a violation of the sanctity of one's home."
On the afternoon of Nov. 15, 2010, a babysitter and three children were returning to a home on Cressy Street in Beverly when two of the children ran ahead and into the home that Crotty was burglarizing, Brennan said.
He ran past them carrying a pillowcase filled with heirlooms and jewelry, which he and his then-girlfriend took to Plaistow, N.H., to pawn that very afternoon, Brennan told the judge.
It was a story that would play out over and over, all over the area; the evening of Nov. 22. an Essex homeowner on Turtleback Road also discovered a burglary and realized that jewelry had been taken, along with a pillowcase.
The final burglary linked to Crotty, on Jan. 5, just days before his arrest, was on Mill Road in Boxford; the homeowner pulled into the driveway to find a BMW parked there and a man walking down the driveway. When the man went behind his house, he found a basket of his family's silverware by the door.
After Crotty's arrest, his photograph appeared in The Salem News, and a couple on Essex Street in Beverly recognized him as the man they had seen in their driveway just before discovering that their home had been burglarized back on Dec. 11.
Crotty was finally caught, after a brief foot chase, on Jan. 10, 2011, by Beverly and Wenham police detectives who had been conducting surveillance on an Arlington Avenue apartment where he'd been reportedly staying.
Along with the drugs, some of which Crotty had secreted on his body, police found the Gucci sunglasses, Brennan said.
But the other items — hundreds of pieces of jewelry and other valuables — were gone, sent by the pawn shop to be melted down, the prosecutor said.
Crotty's lawyer, Morris, urged the judge to go along with the agreement, saying Crotty "is stepping up to the plate rather than putting people back through the ordeal he's already put them through."
Though Crotty has been in custody since last year, he did not receive credit for that time, because he was actually serving sentences for violating his probation in earlier cases. That means he will have to spend at least six more years in prison before he's eligible for parole.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, email@example.com.