AUGUSTA — Gayle Finkbeiner left his North Belgrade home early Aug. 5, 2010, for a doctor’s appointment.

He returned at 1 p.m. to find that the front door was kicked in, his bedroom was ransacked and a safe filled with heirlooms and valuables was missing.

“The sense of security and comfort that we live in a safe community, among honest people, has been forever shattered,” Finkbeiner told a judge Monday at the sentencing hearing of Paul W. Biester in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Biester, 22, of Winslow pleaded guilty March 10 to the burglary and theft at Finkbeiner’s home and similar home burglaries at 26 other residences, in six counties: 10 in Kennebec, five in Sagadahoc, four in Somerset, five in Waldo, two in Cumberland and one in Androscoggin.

Biester also pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking in prison contraband that occurred in Lincoln County and one count of stealing drugs, as well as numerous counts of theft and several criminal mischief charges.

In all, he admitted 66 crimes that took place while he was on probation for 11 earlier burglaries.

Prosecutor Evert Fowle, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, asked for a 20-year sentence for Biester, with half of that suspended, and six years of probation.

Biester’s defense attorney, Lisa Whittier, argued for a 10-year sentence, with half of that suspended and three years of probation.

Judge Robert Murray told attorneys he needed time to read all the material in the case and consider arguments. He said he would impose a sentence at an 8:30 a.m. hearing May 13.

The daylight home break-ins spanned a three-month period. Biester was arrested Aug. 28 in Richmond.

Finkbeiner and a couple from Waldo County were the only victims present at Monday’s sentencing arguments. Fowle said some victims were so traumatized they refused to write impact statements or apply for restitution.

Fowle offered statements from some of the victims:

* “For several nights, we felt unsafe and on edge to even be in our own home,” one Kennebec County couple wrote. “We feared that they would come back again.”

* “Beyond the invasion of privacy, it is a violation of one’s personal space,” one Kennebec County woman said. “This person opened my bureau drawers, touched my clothing and chose to remove only the highest quality items from my jewelry box.”

* “Every day we leave, we wonder if this will happen again,” a Somerset County couple wrote.

* “I now have a house in Vacationland that is locked up tighter than my house in New Jersey, which seems ironic to me,” said a homeowner from Waldo County.

“This defendant chose nice homes where there would likely be items of value,” Fowle said. “He chose homes that were relatively isolated or those which were located on roads with a high speed limit … figuring passing motorists would be less likely to focus on behavior out of the ordinary.”

Biester knocked to ensure the home was unoccupied and “had a ready-made explanation” if someone was, Fowle said.

Whittier said Biester “took full and immediate responsibility the minute he was caught in Richmond.”

She said Biester, who went to school in New Jersey, got hooked on drugs at age 18.

“My client had an out-of-control drug addiction at the time of these offenses,” Whittier said

She argued for the lesser sentence, saying Biester had a supportive family, including grandparents who watched the hearing and submitted a statement to the judge.

“I am greatly disappointed in myself as well as my actions,” Biester said. “I Invaded the privacy of innocent people.”

He addressed the victims directly and couldn’t speak for several moments.

“I never meant to hurt anybody. I truly didn’t. I was never a violent person. I hope you can find some way to forgive me and find some way to feel safe again.”

He blamed the crimes on a cocaine and opiate addiction.

“In the past few years, I’ve become a drug addict, a criminal, a menace to society,” he said through sobs.

Biester said he plans to get substance abuse counseling and take college courses during his prison term to help support a baby daughter born last week to his fiancé.

Fowle said Biester refuses to identify any of his fellow culprits.

“A truly remorseful man would have taken that extra step,” Fowle said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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