Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Man charged in archbishop's burglary last June

A 25-year-old man with a long history of run-ins with the police has been charged with burglary in the audacious break-in at the St. Paul home of Archbishop John Nienstedt last year.

Ramsey County prosecutors charged Kelvin Benjamin Smalls with one count of second-degree burglary Tuesday, two days after Smalls turned himself in to St. Paul police. He was being held in the county jail.

Nienstedt hasn't commented directly on the arrest, "but I'm sure he's pleased the police have done their work and that the case is heading for fruition," said Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Smalls called the police department Sunday, a few days after the department publicly identified him. "He knew because of all the media attention that he was being looked for," said police spokesman Paul Schnell.

Prosecutors say Smalls was identified through DNA testing of blood found in the residence on Summit Avenue.

Among several arrests on a variety of charges in recent years, Smalls was convicted in 2003 of theft and an attempt to commit armed robbery.

Last June 28, staff members called police to the residence when they discovered broken glass on the floor and noted that Nienstedt's closet drawers had been opened.

The break-in occurred in the early morning hours at Nienstedt's residence when a thief climbed onto a first-floor roof and broke into a second-story window. Nienstedt was overseas at the time.

One or more thieves had made off with a safe weighing at least 50 pounds. Inside were seven crosses, three rings, ceremonial pins and a chain.

Initially, archdiocese staff members believed that as many as six bejeweled crosses and several rings that had been worn by former archbishops also had been stolen, but those items turned up in a later search of the archbishop's bedroom.

At the time of the burglary, McGrath observed, "it takes a lot of gall to rob an archbishop."

Only one of the stolen items, a ring produced by the Vatican at the end of the Vatican II council, has been recovered. After police circulated a list of the jewelry, a local pawnbroker turned it over.

"It was just a stroke of luck, thanks to the honesty of the pawnbroker," McGrath said.

Nienstedt, who offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the items, "obviously is hoping the rest will be recovered," McGrath said. "These are objects that have obvious sacred meaning to the archbishop. They're very dear to him." Star Tribune

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