URBANA — A multiple-convicted felon whose DNA was found at a crime scene has been convicted of residential burglary.
A Champaign County jury deliberated a little more than three hours Wednesday before finding Nicholas James, 26, of the 2800 block of Campbell Drive, Champaign, guilty of breaking into a home in the 2600 block of Wellington Drive on Dec. 16, 2010.
Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Weber said the resident, Candace Phillips, 32, testified that she was away from her home and returned home early on Dec. 17 and noticed some Christmas presents partially unwrapped.
Suspecting her dog may have been responsible, she went in the bedroom but found the dog under the bed and the window, which had been locked, open. Looking further, she found other gifts and three laptop computers missing.
Police found a smudged handprint on the open window and footprints in the snow outside the open window but nothing of a good enough quality from which to draw any comparisons. They also found a cigarette butt on the top of the snow near the open window.
The state crime lab ran tests on it and found the DNA on the butt matched that of James, who had previous convictions for residential burglary, delivery of a controlled substance and obstructing justice. The prior convictions meant his DNA would have been on file in the state's DNA database.
Weber said Investigator Dale Rawdin learned of the match in March 2011 and interviewed James.
James told Rawdin that he didn't go in the house but was there at the request of an acquaintance he knew from his neighborhood only as "D" who asked him to watch out for police.
Rawdin asked James to supply him with more information about D and where he could be found but James did not.
The state's attorney's office then filed the residential burglary charge against James in November 2011. When he failed to show up for court after a summons was issued, a warrant was issued. James was arrested in December.
His attorney, Dan Jackson, argued that James lived in the same neighborhood as Phillips and that the wind must have blown the cigarette butt from the street up to near her window.
Weber said none of Phillips' property was ever recovered.
Because of his prior convictions, James faces sentencing as a Class X felon for the residential burglary, meaning six to 30 years.
Judge Tom Difanis set sentencing for May 30.