The tractor that Michael E. Murphy of Montgomery County was convicted of stealing and using to mow his own lawn. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Law Enforcement Records)

A spectacularly bold theft case — one neighbor taking another’s $10,200 tractor and using it to mow his own yard — has ended with the incarceration of a 44-year-old Montgomery County man.

“You stole their property, and you were brazen enough to ride around with it,” Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg told Michael E. Murphy on Friday as he sentenced him to 18 months in the county jail.

“Neighbors are supposed to look out for each other,” prosecutor Julia Cardozo also said in court. “These houses were just a stone’s throw away.”

Murphy, who has worked in the hotel and call-center industries, tried to get away with the caper by removing the tractor’s serial numbers and showing detectives paperwork for a similar tractor he once purchased.

“He was as cool as a cucumber,” Montgomery Detective Kye Pak said.

Michael E. Murphy was convicted of theft and sentenced to 18 months in jail. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Police Department )

The case originated in a large-parcel area of Ashton, Md., about 10 miles north of the Capital Beltway.

On July 23, 2012, a 63-year-old homeowner headed to his shed, planning to mow his two-acre yard. He would be riding an orange Kubota BX2350, the one his wife bought him for his birthday years earlier.

He liked how its power could cut through tall grass, how the four-wheel drive handled small hills. And by attaching a front-end loader, he used the Kubota to plow snow and move mulch. “It did everything we needed it to do,” the homeowner recalled in an interview.

He and his wife spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their privacy. Their accounts were confirmed by court filings from detectives and prosecutors.

Back to July of two years ago. The mower was missing. The homeowner called the police. Pak was assigned the case and learned about the tractor’s characteristic dings and dents, but he didn’t make much progress.

On May 19, 2013, the victims were driving down their street to their home, when, off to the right, they saw something strange: an orange tractor with similar looking damage. “That couldn’t be,” the man, retired from the Air Force, recalled telling his wife, who works for the Food and Drug Administration.

The couple discussed what to do. “If we don’t call the police,” the man finally said, “we’ll always wonder.”

Pak went to talk with Murphy, a friendly, 6-foot-2-inch tall man who took him to his barn and showed him an orange Kubota.

Pak saw the same missing engine cover the victim had described, the same rear taillight damage and the apparent removal of serial-number stickers.

But Murphy had a pretty good cover story. Turned out he had bought a Kubota tractor in 2006 and had sales records to back it up.

Pak left but kept asking questions. He spoke to a tractor store and the Kubota company — learning about distinctive numbers stamped on parts of the tractors.

On June 17, 2013, he returned to Murphy’s home with other detectives and a search warrant. They aimed to compare the tractor’s engine number with one linked to the tractor purchased by the victim.

When Pak looked for the number, it appeared to have been filed off. Pak also noted that the engine had been recently painted and distinctive numbers had been tampered with on the rear tires. The detectives left Murphy’s property, but this time with the tractor.

Pak kept digging. At one point, he had a tractor shop remove the transmission to inspect a different number. That number was linked to the one on the victim’s tractor, not the one that Murphy had purchased. He asked the shop to open the tractor’s gas tank, where they found a small fuel cap the victim had said he’d long ago accidently dropped inside.

Murphy went to trial this summer and was convicted of theft after two days.

However bold Murphy had been to ride the stolen tractor and mow his yard, he also thought he could hide what he had done.

“You’re obviously a very bright individual,” Greenberg, the judge, told him Friday. “You went to great lengths to conceal this.”