Northfield Man Pleads Guilty to Stealing from Vehicles

Eric Richard Kleeberger, 25, is accused of stealing money, electronic devices and skateboards, among other items, that totaled more than $2,000.

A Northfield man pleaded guilty in Rice County District Court this week to a string of thefts from vehicles that occurred in March 2012.

Eric Richard Kleeberger, 25, is accused of stealing money, electronic devices and skateboards, among other items, that totaled more than $2,000.

Ten victims filed reports with police in the March spree, including one couple reporting their vehicle had been stolen.

Kleeberger had originally pleaded not guilty in November to the aiding and abetting theft charge and fleeing a peace officer, a misdemeanor. With a jury trial slated for next week, he amended his plea this week. He will be sentenced Feb. 13. The felony charge carries a maximum penalty of not more than five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

In 2011, Kleeberger was convicted of aiding an offender to avoid arrest, drug possession and drug paraphernalia possession, according to court records. In 2009, he was convicted of misdemeanor theft.

Also charged in the crimes was Kleeberger's cousin, Zachariah Douglas Barron, 18, of Faribault, who pleaded not guilty in October and goes to a jury trial on Feb. 4

Barron faces the same two charges as Kleeberger. He is also charged with liquor consumption by a minor, receiving stolen property and possession of drug paraphernalia, all misdemeanors.

According to the criminal complaint filed with the court:

Northfield Police responded to suspicious activity around 5 a.m. March 29 on the 1400 block of Archibald Street. Officers saw two people dressed in all black, who ran when they saw police.

After a short chase from police by car, then foot, the two suspects split up. An officer eventually caught and apprehended one suspect, who was identified as Barron. The other suspect got away.

When arrested, Barron told police he was "going to prison because he was on felony probation."

Barron, as a minor, was convicted earlier in 2012 on a 2011 felony charge of possessing burglary or theft tools, according to Minnesota Court records.

Police found several items, including a wallet, checks and credit cards, in a window well near where Barron was apprehended.

When interviewed by police, Barron said he initially ran because the day before he had found a marijuana pipe on the ground and still had it in his pocket. He also denied being with anyone else when police found him, charges said.

He initially denied stealing anything. Barron later told police that he was the "lookout" for Kleeberger, who he says broke into the cars. Barron said he would pocket items for Kleeberger. Barron told police that Kleeberger had cut his hand when trying to remove a stereo from a car and had left his cell phone behind in the car.

In the hours and days that followed, police responded to reports of found items scattered throughout neighborhoods and hidden behind trees and bushes. Some items police recovered included GPS devices, cell phones, sunglasses and a red bag that contained medical supplies and a TV monitor.

Police acquired surveillance video from Kwik Trip that showed Barron and Kleeberger together at 11:23 p.m. the night the thefts took place.

On April 18, police interviewed Kleeberger. Kleeberger said he was sleeping by 10:30 p.m. the night the thefts took place and didn't see Barron the rest of the night. Kleeberger also said Barron had stolen some items from him, including a yellow hat and his cell phone.

The officer showed Kleeberger a photo from the surveillance video that showed him wearing the yellow hat at Kwik Trip. Phone records indicate several calls were made between Barron and Kleeberger's phones that night.

When told that his phone was found in a victim's car, Kleeberger said he didn't know how his "extra" phone got in the car. He also denied trying to steal the stereo from the car. When told by the officer that blood was found in the car and that they'd compare it to Kleeberger's DNA, Kleeberger ended the interview.

The aggregate value of the items stolen was approximately $2,072, according to police.

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