By Dan Morse
Friday, March 18, 2011; 12:02 AM
Cody Wilkins, the Montgomery County burglary suspect who drew international media attention for allegedly leaving a charging cellphone inside a home he had broken into, was indicted on 26 criminal counts Thursday. The 25-year-old former pet store worker faces 14 counts of burglary and 12 counts of theft.
In all, Montgomery authorities think he may have burglarized 50 or more homes from Silver Spring to Olney going back to late 2010.
Even now, though, the case is shaping up as a battle between prosecutors who want to punish a man they say is a prolific burglar and defense attorneys who say that what Wilkins really needs is treatment for longtime painkiller abuse.
"This is a kid who has never been in trouble before, who has a terrible addiction," said attorney David Martella.
The odd series of events leading to Wilkins's arrest began Jan. 26, when a powerful storm knocked out power to thousands. Many were forced to figure out ways to keep their cellphones charged - and police say Wilkins was among them when he took his phone and charger with him when he broke into a house north of Wheaton.
He plugged the phone into an outlet, started rummaging through jewelry, was startled by an arriving resident and jumped out a second-floor window - leaving the phone behind, police said. Detectives used the phone to identify him and linked him to a series of burglary cases that had baffled them for months, according to police accounts. Among the victims were homeowners who lost sentimental pieces of jewelry they said couldn't be replaced.
Wilkins was born in New Jersey, according to court papers. He grew up in a solid middle-class family and worked in a pet store, Martella said. A friend introduced him to oxycodone, a powerful painkiller, the attorney said.
About a year ago, Wilkins "disappeared" from family members and made his way to Montgomery, Martella said. The move, however, apparently didn't separate him from the drug, often known by the brand name OxyContin.
At Suburban Hospital's Addiction Treatment Center, counselors are seeing a steady rise in addiction to the drug, said Beth Kane Davidson, director of the center.
Addicts can spend up to $200 a day, she said, and sometimes switch to heroin because it is less expensive, Davidson said. "This addiction is so powerful they can't participate in the outpatient counseling," she said.
"You take OxyContin, your body demands you get more OxyContin," Martella said.
Wilkins landed a job at Congressional Aquarium in Rockville, where a co-worker, Greg Schneider, called him a hard worker.
"He busted his butt," Schneider said. But the co-worker also noticed problems. "He was always sniffling. He always looked like he had had late nights," Schneider said.
Before Thursday's indictment, detectives had filed four affidavits in support of charges against Wilkins. After arresting him, they linked him to previous break-ins based on witness accounts, jewelry found at his home, footprints left outside homes and fingerprints left on homes' windows, according to the affidavits.
Wilkins has now spent nearly seven weeks in jail, where he has halted his use of oxycodone, Martella said.
"This is the best he has felt in six years," the attorney said.