Bear’s head burglars guilty

Published 11:14 pm Thursday, April 7, 2011

Three men who burglarized a Copeland Road home and stole a mounted black bear’s head in November were found guilty in Suffolk Circuit Court on Thursday.


After a pun-laden trial that included an estimation by the victim of the bear head’s “bare minimum” value at $600, Judge William Andrews found Robert Michael Stepanek, 24, guilty of statutory burglary, grand larceny and conspiracy to commit statutory burglary.

Co-defendants Brandon James Hall, 21, and Kelly Donte Goodman, 22, pleaded guilty to statutory burglary through plea agreements.

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The three burglarized the home of Wayne Byrum in the 1400 block of Copeland Road on Nov. 13. Byrum’s neighbor, his brother Joseph Byrum, watched most of the incident from the window.

Joseph Byrum said he heard noises during the night, and looked out of the window to see a vehicle’s passengers get out of the car and start lurking around his brother’s shed. He called 911 and directed police to the scene.

While the passengers were breaking into the shed, Byrum continually saw the vehicle’s brake lights go on and off, indicating the driver still was in the car. The passengers eventually came back to the car, and it pulled out of the driveway.

That’s when Officer J. Bulls of the Suffolk Police Department arrived on scene. He stopped the car a short distance down the road.


He found Hall driving, with Stepanek in the front passenger seat and Goodman seated behind Stepanek. Goodman had a gas can partially hidden under his legs.

Another officer went with Byrum to his house to investigate.

“We went on the deck and found glass everywhere,” said Wayne Byrum, who had recently moved to another nearby house but still had furniture in the burglarized house. “Somebody had broken the pane out, reached in and unlocked the door.”

The officer asked if anything was missing, and Byrum initially thought nothing had been taken.

“Then I got to looking on the walls and I said, ‘My bear head’s gone,’” he said.

Byrum shot the bear about four or five years ago, he said in court Thursday. The bear had weighed 200 pounds. The head cost $600 to get mounted, he said, but was worth about $800 to $1,000 to him.

In the shed, he noticed a gas can was gone.

After police obtained a search warrant, they opened the trunk of the car the suspects had been driving.


“There was my bear head sitting there, facing up,” Byrum said Thursday.

Hall initially told Officer Bulls the three were in the area because they had missed an exit returning from a club in Virginia Beach. He also initially said Stepanek had never gotten out of the car, though he changed that story on the witness stand.

“My client was present, but nobody can actually put him in that house,” defense attorney Steven Pratt said. “We don’t know if my client ever got out of the vehicle. [Hall’s] credibility, I would say, is of no value to this court.”

Pratt also argued the grand larceny charge should be dismissed because dead animal parts cannot legally be bought or sold, and therefore the bear’s head has no market value.

Judge Andrews, however, said a victim can testify to the value he places on a possession.

Andrews did agree that Hall’s credibility “leaves a lot to be desired,” but agreed with prosecutor Susan Walton that Byrum’s testimony had corroborated that of Hall.

Goodman and Stepanek are due back in court June 2. Hall will appear June 17.