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Serial burglar at Lincoln Hills sentenced

Twenty-two-year-old defendant blames crimes on heroin
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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Emotions ran high Tuesday as residents of a Lincoln retirement community headed into court to see if the man who spread fear and anxiety through their neighborhoods by breaking into homes while his victims slept nearby would be sent to a state penitentiary.

At the same time, the defense attorney argued that thrusting 22-year-old Richard Vinci — who has no prior record — into hardened prison life would have devastating consequences. 

The court drama had its roots in a series of forced break-ins that hit Sun City Lincoln Hills between last May and September.

According to prosecutors, Vinci allegedly forced his way into more than 19 homes late at night and burglarized them. In a number of cases, the elderly victims were at home sleeping in the same rooms that Vinci was stalking through.

Placer County Deputy District Attorney Ben Eggert also said that Vinci was arrested half way through the spree by the Lincoln Police Department, posted bail and then went straight back to raiding homes.

“He’s pled guilty to three,” Eggert told the judge. “And we have solid evidence for two more – plus good reason to believe he’s responsible for another 15 that took place in the same neighborhood and immediately stopped when he was in custody … In count one, the 80-year-old victim was in the bedroom while the defendant was in it. That’s a very dangerous and frightening situation … he knew it was a retirement community. Look at the number of burglaries and his choice of victims. Nothing stopped him.”

One victim, who was indentified by her initials, M.G., spoke to courtroom about how the crime had impacted her.

“We’re very sorry that, at a young age, you started stealing for an addiction that will ruin your life,” M.G. said to Vinci. “When you forcibly entered our home at night and entered our bedroom , we felt violated for weeks and had an overwhelming sense of helplessness.”

Vinci’s lawyer, John Richter, argued residents of Sun City Lincoln Hills had used a “fear mongering campaign” to scare themselves on a level his client was not entirely responsible for.

“We saw the same few talking points repeated over and over in these letters that went out,” Richter said. “If there was fear throughout the community, it’s because so much effort was put into this … I believe ignorance is bliss and it was the letters that really made people feel afraid to live in their neighborhoods.”

Those comments drew sharp criticism from the Lincoln Hills residents at the hearing, a number of whom said they engaged in nothing more than community-minded awareness to protect each other.

Referencing California’s new law AB 109, Richter tried to persuade the judge to put Vinci on probation and use “evidence-based” programs to curb his heroin addiction rather than laws based on what he deemed “fear and hysteria.”

Richter added that sending Vinci to state prison would forever ensnare him in the revolving door of the criminal justice system.

Vinci then stood up and turned to face the retirees in the courtroom.

“I have no family here with me right now,” he said. “It’s all victims that are here to see me see me get prison time … I know I’ve hurt you emotionally … I know I’ve scarred people. Honestly, it’s hard to live with myself or look myself in the mirror. I deserve to be punished for what I’ve done. It’s because of heroin. It clouded my mind. It made me think what I did was OK. I hope I’m given the chance to pay people back and that I can get forgiveness.” 

Eggert countered by reminding Placer County Superior Court Judge John Cosgrove that Vinci had been arrested once during the crime spree, only to post bail and continue to victimize more residents.

“The purpose of the court is to protect society,” Eggert said. “The crimes stopped only when the defendant was in custody.”

Before announcing the sentence, Cosgrove shared his own views.

“I am moved by the defendant’s youth and I do believe he is legitimately remorseful,” Cosgrove said. “But the impacts of these crimes are more serious than normal residential burglaries … The shock of waking up to find someone in the room could have caused some of the victims to have a fatal medical event. This is not a probation case; this is a state prison case.”

Cosgrove sentenced Vinci to six years in prison, two years less than the maximum penalty for culminating burglary cases.