A man was found guilty of burglary on Thursday after a Highland County jury deliberated on the evidence for more than two hours.
Steven Ray Culbreth, 45, Eastgate, faces up to eight years in prison for the crime, a second-degree felony, although prison is not a mandatory punishment in the case.
The jury heard testimony from five state witnesses during the trial, and Culbreth was the only witness for the defense.
The case revolved around an October 2017 incident near Buford involving Culbreth and the female victim, who was at one point his fiance.
Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins argued in her remarks to the jury that Culbreth entered the victim’s home without her permission after threatening her and her husband via phone call and text message.
Collins said the victim was in the home when Culbreth entered, and ran out the back door afraid that he would hurt her.
Collins presented screenshots of Culbreth’s text messages as evidence, many of which indicated the defendant wanted to hurt the victim’s husband. Collins said Culbreth had told the victim during a phone call that morning that he was going to kill her.
Defense attorney Lara Baron argued that while Culbreth did send threatening text messages and admitted to entering the home, he did not intend to harm anyone, an essential element in proving his guilt.
The victim, who testified that Culbreth had hurt her on prior occasions, said as the defendant entered the home, she ran out into the street and flagged down a passing vehicle to get away.
The driver of the vehicle testified that she picked the victim up and called the police, since the victim was distraught to the point of hysteria. A dispatcher directed them to drive into Buford and wait for law enforcement to arrive.
Sgt. Danny Croy of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office testified that when he arrived at the home, Culbreth had already left. When the victim and her husband, who had been at work, arrived at the home, Culbreth called the victim again. When her husband answered, Croy told the husband to have Culbreth come back to the house, and when Culbreth returned, Croy arrested him.
Culbreth, who testified himself, admitted that he sent threatening text messages to his former fiance, but the threats were directed at her husband, with whom he wanted to fight.
Culbreth said he was drunk at the time.
Croy testified that while the defendant smelled like alcohol at the time of the incident, he passed a field sobriety test after he was arrested.
Culbreth admitted to entering the home, but said he didn’t think it was occupied and only wanted to look at the remodeling he had done before he and the victim broke up.
One of the issues central to the case was how many keys had been made for the front door, since Culbreth used a house key to get inside.
The victim said she was the one who bought the door knob and lock, and that there were only two keys included in the set.
Culbreth claimed that there were actually four keys, and that he and the victim had put one key in each of their four vehicles. Culbreth said he returned one of the keys, but the victim never asked him to return the other one.
In closing arguments, Collins said the idea of Culbreth’s transition from raging mad to only wanting to look at remodeling was “ludicrous.”
“Two hours of rage, and they want you to believe for 10 minutes he was as meek as a mouse,” Collins said. “He’s hurt her before. That’s why she was so afraid.”
Baron argued that the state had no evidence of Culbreth’s intent other than the text conversation, in which he never directly threatened the victim, instead demanding to fight her husband outside the home.
A fourth-degree misdemeanor menacing charge that had been filed against Culbreth was reduced during the trial to a lesser-included charge, which, according to Collins, was automatically dismissed when the jury found the defendant guilty on the burglary charge.
The jury began deliberation at 4 p.m. and delivered the verdict at 6:15 p.m. Thursday.
After hearing the verdict, the judge revoked Culbreth’s bond and remanded him to custody.
Culbreth will be sentenced after a pre-sentence investigation is conducted.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.
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