A serial burglar who has long committed crimes throughout area neighborhoods including Midtown, Ansley Park, Virginia-Highland and Morningside, was sentenced this week to 20 years behind bars according to Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Harlow.
Harlow told members of the Neighborhood Planning Unit-E this week that because Charles Lee Echols, 54, assisted authorities in the investigation of other unsolved burglary crimes that he had committed in the area, he was able to plea bargain and the judge probated five of the 20 years sentence.
Harlow said the career criminal was sentenced to an additional 10 years probation for the theft by taking felony acts. The probation period will begin when Echols is released from prison at age 69. He has been banished from the neighborhoods of Midtown, Morningside, Virginia-Highland, and Adair Park.
According to CourtWatch member David Berl, Judge Doris L Downs said the case was an "indictment of the criminal justice system." Echols had seven previous convictions, and this case was his seventh related to burglaries.
In late August, police asked local residents to be on the lookout for Echols. He was wanted for a suspected parole violation in connection with a burglary, and as the word spread on a Yahoo Group message board, VHlist, neighbors started reporting sightings of Echols.
On August 22, Echols was arrested on an outstanding parole violation warrant after being spotted with a black bag at 699 Lexington Avenue in Adair Park. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the contents of the black bag included several items reported stolen from a residence on Yorkshire Road in Morningside.
Echols later confessed to the Yorkshire burglary and explained that he frequently found homes to burglarize in the area near Amsterdam Avenue and Monroe Drive. It was discovered that on the same day he burglarized the residence on Yorkshire, he also took a laptop bag and whiskey from a home located on Amsterdam Ave.
Later, investigators were able to secure a confession from Echols about nine other residential burglaries in the area. Echols described to investigators how he committed the burglaries by targeting houses with isolated yards or trees obstructing the view from the street, entering through the rear of the homes, and after noon time when residents were away.
Included among these was a Midtown home located on 9th Street.
Many local Citizens' CourtWatchers were in attendance at the sentencing this week and Harlow stressed that such presence was important in demonstrating to the judge how serious the neighborhoods are in seeing habitual offenders locked up for significant periods of time.
- Information from John Wolfinger, coordinator of the VHlist neighborhood watch, was contributed to this story.