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Trial Begins for Suspect in Crime Wave


VAN NUYS — A Panorama City man is responsible for a 10-day "mini crime wave" that terrorized homeowners in the San Fernando Valley and included the rape of a teen-age girl who was assaulted only because her father was a Burbank police officer, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

The statement came as a Van Nuys Superior Court jury began hearing evidence in the trial of Robert Smith, 25, who is accused of 36 felony counts stemming from late-night armed robberies at seven homes. Five of the charges carry life prison terms.

In his opening statement to the jury, Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Richman outlined the charges against Smith.

"Mr. Smith and his buddies are the public's worst nightmare," Richman said. "They would go into people's houses in the middle of the night knowing that people were home, armed with shotguns, wearing bandannas, hold them at gunpoint, threaten to kill them, rob them of all their personal belongings, their jewelry, anything that may have had sentimental value to them whatsoever, take them to ATMs to force them to withdraw money."

The crimes were committed between April 6 and April 16, 1991. Smith and a second man, James Crooms, 23, of Pacoima, were arrested on April 16 after a neighbor observed the pair entering an unoccupied home near Mulholland Drive, Richman said.

Crooms and another man, Bevin Graham, pleaded guilty last week to one count of residential burglary and are scheduled to be sentenced by Superior Court Judge Howard J. Schwab on Oct. 4. As part of a plea bargain agreement, Crooms will receive a nine-year state prison sentence and Graham will be ordered to serve seven years.

Smith is linked to the rape of the 15-year-old girl by DNA evidence. Richman told the jury that Smith found the teen-ager during a robbery in Panorama City and items in the home indicated that a police officer lived there.

"Mr. Smith, showing the kind of person he is and realizing that he was in a police officer's house, decided because (she) was a police officer's daughter, for no other reason than that, he decided to rape her," Richman said.

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