A discarded cigarette butt came back to burn a suspected thief.
More than three years after the alleged crime, Brandon S. Ward-Smith, 31, of Butler is facing criminal charges.
State police last month charged Ward-Smith, a felon, with breaking into four vehicles in Summit Township on Feb. 5 and 6, 2017.
During their initial investigation, police said, they took reports of four thefts from vehicles at two homes each on Kemar Drive and Saxonburg Road. The four homes are less than one mile apart and just a minute's travel time by vehicle.
The proximity of the homes and because all of the thefts occurred within one day of each other led police to suspect the same person was involved.
The loot taken from the vehicles included jewelry, a gift card, a folding knife and currency valued collectively at a little more than $400.
Investigators at one home, police said, found a fresh cigarette in the driveway next to the vehicle that had been ransacked. The potential evidence was collected and later sent to the state police crime lab in Westmoreland County.
On March 16, 2018, police got good news: there was a “hit” on the DNA taken from the cigarette.
Specifically, investigators said, the Combined DNA Index System known as “CODIS,” an FBI database of criminal suspects' biometric data, had matched the DNA to a known offender — Ward-Smith.
Convicted felons are required to submit DNA for the database.
Ward-Smith has a relatively lengthy criminal history, according to court records, that includes felony convictions for conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver a controlled substance in 2015 and retail theft in 2017.
But when police got word of the “hit,” the defendant's whereabouts were unknown. That changed, however, when he got picked up and placed in the Butler County Prison for a probation violation in June 2018.
Police subsequently interviewed him at the prison. He denied he had anything to do with the thefts from the vehicles. He also claimed he was unfamiliar with Kemar Drive — where the cigarette butt, allegedly with his DNA on it, was found.
This is an excerpt of an article appearing in Thursday's Butler Eagle. To read the full story, pick up today's newspaper or subscribe online.