Burglar Receives 68 Year Sentence; Getting Caught "Saved My Life"

By Mike Perleberg

Dakota Fraley received a 68 year sentence on Thursday, December 10. Photo by Dearborn County Sheriff's Department. (Dearborn County, Ind.) – Dakota Fraley’s story is a cautionary tale for any young person faced with their first choice of whether or not to try a drug. Fraley was consuming alcohol and marijuana at 12-years-old. At age 15 he used heroin for the first time and was selling pills and pot. When he was 17 his mother found him with syringes and put him in a short term treatment program. He was 18 when he burglarized his first homes and was convicted of narcotic drug possession. Out of jail at age 20, he began to burglarize dozens more homes in Dearborn, Ripley, and Decatur counties so he could support the heroin addictions costing he and his girlfriend up to $600 a day. Now at age 22, he has lost friends, direct contact with family, and decades of freedom. Fraley, of Dillsboro, pleaded guilty to five counts of Burglary (Class B felony) in Dearborn Superior Court II in October. He admits to committing 10 burglaries in Dearborn County in March and May of 2014. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss nine other counts of Burglary or Conspiracy to Commit Burglary as well as another pending case. On Thursday, Judge Sally McLaughlin sentenced Fraley to 68 years with 63 in prison and five on probation. He had faced anywhere from just six years all the way up to 100 years behind bars. The window left much to be considered by the judge, who said this case exhibited the harsh realities of substance abuse. McLaughlin said she considered the victims and the continued impact on each of their lives. She noted that each victim had items of sentimental value that can never be replaced stolen. More than a year after the crimes, many still worry about whether they are safe in their own homes. Fraley's past criminal history was considered a heavy aggravating factor. The same was said for his history of substance abuse. The judge cited Fraley's own admission that he did not take take full advantage of chemical addiction programs as a juvenile. One was Dearborn County's Jail Chemical Addiction Program and the other was an outside program. "You chose to use drugs. You chose to burglarize homes. You chose not to take rehabilitation seriously enough," McLaughlin said. The judge also admonished Fraley for his propensity to not follow court orders. He was out of jail on pretrial release in Ripley County at the time of the burglary spree. McLaughlin said that she believed Fraley was likely to commit future crimes. The victims of Fraley's poor choices extended beyond the burglary victims to his own family. His mother was overcome with emotion as the sentencing hearing ended Thursday. Most were too distraught to offer up comment, but were audibly unhappy with the prosecutor. Dearborn and Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard said the sentence was appropriate. He said Fraley's actions went beyond addictive behavior. "He's been incarcerated on a number of occasions and has been given rehabilitation services. Despite that he continued his criminal behavior and he did so in a very careless, destructive and senseless manner," Negangard said following the sentencing. The prosecutor thanked the various detectives and law enforcement agencies who worked to solve the burglaries. Fraley was given 1,138 days of good time credit for time served in jail prior to his sentencing. He is to begin paying tens of thousands of dollars in restitution to the burglary victims upon his release. He was told not to have any contact with the victims while in jail or once he is released. Fraley's attorney, Frank Cardis, indicated in court that he will appeal the sentence. Sixty-eight years, Cardis said, removes Fraley's ability to hope for a changed life. "When a deciding a sentence, a judge must balance punishment, restitution for the victim(s), and rehabilitation of the offender. I would have hoped for the Judge to place a much greater emphasis on rehabilitation, especially for such a young offender," Cardis said in a statement.   A Teen Gets Into Drugs In an emotional sentencing hearing held December 1, victims, Fraley’s relatives, and detectives crowded into a small courtroom to testify about the ways in which one young man’s heroin addiction impacted their lives. Terri Hensley became a second mother to Fraley when he was in high school. Fraley came to live with Hensley and her family when his mother moved out of state. Her daughter, Michelle Hensley, began dating Dakota at age 17. Terri told the court that she began to suspect Fraley of heroin use when she saw a change in his behavior and his friends. Negangard pointed out that Fraley had also gotten Michelle mixed up in drugs and eventually addicted to heroin. The prosecutor said she had accompanied Fraley on multiple burglaries. Michelle Hensley pleaded guilty to five counts of Burglary in Dearborn County this past spring. She was sentenced to 20 years with 15 years in prison. But Terri Hensley spoke positively of Fraley. “Dakota on drugs is not Dakota off of drugs,” she said, adding that she believes that proper drug treatment could work for him. Hensley’s other daughter, Megan Hensley, also offered testimony on Fraley’s behalf. She said she and Fraley became friends when he transferred to South Ripley High School in Versailles in 2009. “Dakota was a caring person. He was full of energy. He had a glow about him,” she recalled. But Fraley wasn’t those things when in his senior year of high school he began using heroin with other classmates. “He started not to be around as much. He was staying out,” Megan Hensley said. Fraley’s mother, Vanessa Hutchison, described the troubles she had gone through trying to keep her son clean. Fraley had done a good job of keeping his drug activity hidden from his mother, but she found him with syringes in 2011. Admitting she was not as knowledgeable about heroin at the time, she put him in a 21 day treatment program in hopes it would be effective.  Weeks later he was arrested in Dearborn County. Still, Fraley was able to earn his high school diploma. “He had a lot of obstacles, but never quit,” an emotional Hutchison said, adding that he was an A and B student. Hutchison said she will always have hope that her son will recover from heroin addiction. She says that there are longer 36-month addiction programs with better success rates. “We’ve both learned about forgiveness, mercy, and humility,” she said.   Burglary Victims Have A Shattered Sense Of Security Ninety-one-year-old Marvin Cutter was among the dozens of people made burglary victims by Fraley. When Fraley struck his home, a 100-year-old watch that his father once owned was taken. So was his late wife’s jewelry. None of the items have been recovered. “It bothers me a lot,” Cutter said. “The watches were the main thing and I wanted to pass them on to my kids.” Cutter’s story of stolen family heirlooms was a common theme through the nine Dearborn County victims that paraded to the witness stand December 1. So were stories of outfitting homes with security systems, sleeping with a gun nearby, and a lost sense of security in the victims' own homes. “It’s changed our way of life,” said victim Mike Hornbach, who was attending an out-of-town wedding when he and his wife received the phone call telling them their home was broken into. “It used to be that living in Dearborn County you never had to lock your door.” Items taken from Hornbach’s home included a military service watch as well as a locket and golden rosary from his daughter’s great grandmother. “Who steals a rosary?” he asked. Lisa Stenger was the final burglary victim. Detectives witnessed Fraley hit her home before arresting him. During a high speed chase that ensued, Fraley chucked the jewelry he had stolen from Stenger’s home out of the window along some rural road. Stenger said the belongings were worth thousands. “You have been selfish,” Stenger read to Fraley from a prepared statement. “You and only you decided to try the drugs for the first time. You made choices. Not the drugs.” Stenger said that she was going to let go of her anger towards Fraley. She urged him to take a good direction with the limited number of choices he’ll have in prison.   The Chase With a rash of burglaries happening at rural homes during the daytime hours in the spring of 2014, detectives from the Indiana State Police, sheriff’s departments, and other law enforcement agencies began to cooperate to solve them. Fraley was developed as a suspect. Investigators began to conduct surveillance on Fraley. On May 21, 2014, Fraley left the Hensley’s home in a pickup truck with Chad Sumler. ISP detective Tim Wuestefeld and Ripley County Sheriff’s Department detective Abe Hildebrand were among those that followed him. Fraley and Sumler were seen committing a burglary at a home on Walters Road in the Sunman area. Wuestefeld said he made the decision to try and apprehend Fraley. As detectives approached the truck Fraley was driving with Sumler as the passenger, Fraley sped off. Fraley’s defense attorney, Frank Cardis, asserted that his client may have been confused because the men coming at them showing guns were in plain clothes and driving unmarked vehicles. Wuestefeld said he did show his badge and stated “State Police! Stop the truck!” As Fraley spun through a yard, his vehicle struck Hildebrand. The detective was knocked to the ground. He then heard gunshots. Knowing that Fraley had stolen firearms in previous burglaries they believed he was connected to, Hildebrand said he was not immediately sure whose gunshots they were. The shots turned out to be from Wuestefeld’s weapon. He said he fired six rounds through the pickup truck’s windshield. Still, Fraley refused to stop. Neither he or Sumler had been hit by the bullets. Another detective, Carl Pieczonka with the Dearborn County Special Crimes Unit, gave chase. The pursuit reached speeds up to 120 MPH, he estimated. The high speed chase came to an end on Sturwold Road in Franklin County. Fraley and Sumler ditched the vehicle there and ran on foot. They were taken into custody after a brief search.   Fraley Issues Apologies The final person to offer testimony at the December 1 hearing was Fraley himself. Wearing an orange jumpsuit with a silver cross necklace showing outside, Fraley and his relatives in the courtroom broke down into tears as he read from a prepared statement. “I’d like to apologize to everybody my actions affected, especially the victims,” he began. “There are no excuses for the things I’ve done.” Fraley apologized to his mother and others who had cared for him. “I was raised better than this.” He looked towards his younger siblings as he apologized for letting them down. A powerful addiction was chronicled. Drugs, starting with marijuana and eventually graduating to heroin, ruined a young life, Fraley said. “I’d have cut off my arm and given it to a drug dealer if they would give me heroin,” He said. “I don’t know anyone who likes a liar and a thief, but on heroin that’s what I am.” Fraley seemed to accept that he would be receiving a lengthy sentence. He agreed that he needed a long process out. He said he would try to stay positive in prison and work towards a degree. He concluded by saying that getting caught for the burglaries probably saved his life.   Attorneys Make Their Cases Frank Cardis, Fraley’s defense attorney, asked the judge to lean towards the lower end of the six to 100 year potential sentence. “He would be hopeless for the remaining days of his life,” Cardis said. Fraley could pay victims back to some degree if he were to get out of prison sooner. The defender also said that because a drug addiction drove Fraley to commit the crimes, that the sentence should be lighter. Lastly, Cardis asserted that the crimes committed were property crimes and not done face-to-face with the victims. Prosecutor Aaron Negangard, however, called that a “ridiculous notion”. Fraley only committed the burglaries during the daytime when victims were gone for the day so that he would avoid getting caught, he said. “This is a crime spree in which he brought fear and irreparable harm to multiple victims,” said Negangard. The prosecutor told McLaughlin that Fraley has already had his second opportunity. He committed crimes as a juvenile. He went back to jail after that. “It needs to be decades in jail,” Negangard ended. It was learned at the pronouncement of the 68 year sentence on Thursday that the judge agreed.   RELATED STORIES: Serial Burglar Pleading Guilty, To Be Sentenced Thursday Prison Sentence Separates Couple Accused In String Of Burglaries Burglary Suspect Faces New Charges For High Speed Chase New Charges, Details, Suspect In SEI Burglaries; Suspect’s Mother Critical Of Police Burglary, Chase Suspects Ordered Held On Bond UPDATE: Chase Suspects Believed Responsible For 25-30 Daytime Burglaries Investigators Crack Year-Old Burglary Cases  

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