By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK -- Testimony from a man who described himself as a former friend of Sean Thomas Hall's played a crucial role in Hall's conviction Friday on three counts stemming from the home invasion of an elderly Strasburg woman's house March 29.
Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson IV convicted Hall, 22, whose last permanent address was 715 Capon Road, of abduction and kidnapping, nighttime burglary and grand larceny.
Hall was also convicted in connection with an earlier burglary on Jan. 8 at the same residence where he committed the March 29 burglary.
Wilson scheduled sentencing for 4 p.m. March 4.
The case was one of the most visible early efforts by police to tie a violent crime to the heroin epidemic spreading through the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Strasburg police said Hall committed his crimes to steal goods that were to be used to pay for his heroin habit.
The victim, Eleanor Miller, 84, of South Funk Street, described a night of terror that began when she awoke to find an unidentified man in her bedroom in the pre-dawn hours of March 29. Miller testified that she noticed a light in the bedroom that she first thought was from a car's headlights traveling down the street.
"But it was evidently a flashlight," Miller said, adding that the intruder quickly put "a hand over my mouth."
Miller, who lives alone, said the intruder forcibly turned her over on her side, bound her wrists and ankles with tape and placed an unknown covering over her head.
"So he hog tied you?" asked Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Louis Campola.
"Yes, he did," Miller replied.
Miller said she could not see the man's face in the dark and couldn't identify him.
"I didn't see him at all," Miller said. " He was to my back the whole time."
Moments earlier, Miller testified that she had known Hall and his father over a 16-year-period when they regularly came by and shoveled her sidewalk and driveway after snowstorms.
Miller said the intruder repeatedly threatened to harm her as he finished tying her up, then left the bedroom and ransacked the house for what she estimated to be about an hour.
Miller estimated that intruder returned to her bedroom six times to check on her before he resumed searching the house each time for valuables to steal.
"He was a busy little bee," Miller said.
Miller said the intruder finally cut her loose and replaced the covering over her head with a pillowcase before escaping.
She said she found her robe, slippers and cane, "and beat it out of there," to the residence of a neighbor who called the police.
Sean Hall was the last witness to testify. He admitted burglarizing Miller's home on Jan. 8 while she was hospitalized for hip replacement injury. But, under questioning by Campola, Hall repeatedly denied entering Miller's home on March 29. He insisted that he was at home watching the TV show "Archer" with a friend of his, Brandon Hall, on the night of the burglary.
But Hall's alibi came under attack earlier when Brandon Hall, who is no relation to Sean Hall, testified as a prosecution witness.
Brandon Hall, 19, described himself as a former friend of Sean Hall's.
"When did you stop being friends?" Campola asked.
"When I found out what he did," Brandon Hall said, referring to Sean Hall and the March 29 burglary.
Brandon Hall testified he went to the Strasburg police and told them that Sean Hall wanted him to support the alibi that they were together at Sean Hall's residence on the night of the burglary. Brandon Hall said he agonized for several hours after their conversation before deciding to tell the police.
Brandon Hall agreed to a request by police that he tape record a future conversation with Sean Hall when they would discuss the alibi scenario.
Campola played the tape recording of the two men talking as Wilson listened.
After the trial, Campola praised Brandon Hall and the Strasburg police for conceiving and executing the idea for a phone recording.
"He didn't have to do that, testify against his friend," Campola said of Brandon Hall.
He added that the tape recording played a key role in building the case against Sean Hall.
"Without that, it would have been difficult to prove," Campola said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org