Trial over, jury gets Modesto home burglaries case

The case of a Modesto man who may have been the ringleader in a crew that allegedly sneaked into more than 100 homes was in the hands of 12 jurors Tuesday afternoon.

But six men and six women who heard about the latest arrest of 33-year-old Paul Michael Ruiz will determine only if he is responsible for 12 felonies stemming from six residential burglaries.

By the time he was arrested at the Red Lion Hotel on Sisk Road on Sept. 27, 2005, Ruiz had numerous cases at different stages of the legal process, making it impossible to combine them all.

So a trial that began two weeks ago in Stanislaus County Superior Court focused on break-ins on Wellesley Avenue, Konynenburg Lane, Milbrook Avenue, Princeton Avenue, College Avenue and Marsala Way.

Authorities allege Ruiz and his friends targeted affluent homes by looking for signs that the owners were not around, such as newspapers on the lawn or mail stacked up in mailboxes.

"All of our victims were on vacation," Deputy District Attorney John Goulart said during his closing argument.

On the other side was a defense attorney who said Ruiz is guilty of receiving stolen property, but not responsible for break-ins that were perpetrated by former co-defendants who negotiated deals in return for guilty pleas.

"Mr. Ruiz is guilty of some things," said attorney Richard Meyer of Modesto, "but not everything they're saying."

Police actions criticized

Meyer said his client is the victim of overzealous policing, because one of the victims is the father of a Modesto police officer who ran over Ruiz when Ruiz was arrested two years ago.

The defense attorney also suggested the police planted evidence to tie Ruiz to the break-ins, noting that the police were in Ruiz's home on Whittier Avenue for five hours before a judge signed a search warrant.

Goulart said police made a judgment call when they entered Ruiz's home without a warrant, to secure it after a July 8, 2005, break-in. Members of the alleged burglary ring were under surveillance that day. Officers told the jury they watched Tanisha Flaherty, James Nelson and a man who may have been Ruiz drive to a home in the 1300 block of Ens-len Avenue in a white Volvo, then sneak inside.

They said Flaherty returned to the Volvo alone, then met the men again in an alley off Stoddard Avenue, where they transferred property from a stolen Cadillac to the Volvo. A pursuit ensued, with Ruiz escaping on foot and Nelson and Flaherty detained.

Nelson, 36, pleaded no contest to burglary and was sentenced to three years and four months in prison. Flaherty, 23, was tied to additional burglaries and took a deal that sent her to prison for nine years, four months. Both are from Modesto.

The police arrested Jodi Hollingsworth at Ruiz's home in Modesto, where they found stolen property. They arrested her again when Ruiz was caught at the Red Lion Hotel. She was leaving with a bag of stolen property.

Hollingsworth, 29, was sent to drug court but got a three-year prison sentence when she failed to complete the rehabilitation program.

Another man tied to an earlier burglary with Ruiz, Michael Patrick Cockrum, 33, of Modesto pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Court records show Ruiz has six other criminal cases that will resume when his trial is over, including an assault charge he picked up in jail. He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be contacted at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.