South Tahoe man guilty of burglary in 1st jury trial since pandemic began

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Shawn Michael Decosta sat at the defense table on Thursday in a gray suit with navy tie and orange mask and listened to a jury find him guilty on three of the four counts for which he was charged.

In-person jury trials have resumed in South Lake Tahoe since the pandemic forced the stoppage in March 2020. Decosta’s trial, which began with jury selection last Tuesday, July 27, was the first.

The jury unanimously found Decosta, 54, guilty of first degree felony burglary, with an added enhancement due to being on probation from a previous burglary, of receiving stolen property and misdemeanor second degree burglary. He was acquitted of vandalism.

In a case full of circumstantial evidence, Deputy District Attorney Casey Mandrell had over half a dozen people testify, including several officers from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, and proved most of what he set out to do, except completely nail down who stole several pounds of meat from a local restaurant.

The trial started with the owner of Taco Taqueria, Armando Garcia, testifying that his restaurant was broken into on Feb. 1 and about $200 worth of beef was stolen.

On Feb. 2, Decosta was arrested for illegally entering and inhabiting a residence that is used by the owners only for summer vacations. At that residence, about a half mile from the taqueria, a large stack of meat was found in the kitchen.

Mandrell, while not getting an admission of guilt from Decosta that he stole the meat, proved to the jury the meat found at the residence was the same that was stolen.

Decosta was also on probation from a similar offense at the International House on Pancakes for which he pleaded no contest in January and was currently on probation.

Decosta had apparently been living at the residence, located on Osgood Avenue. An air mattress upstairs in the two-story “rustic” cabin was being used as a bed and alongside were a mostly filled soda bottle with cigarette butts and a half full 5-gallon bucket of feces since the water and power were shut off for winter.

After his arrest on Feb. 2 and subsequent release the next day, Decosta was again discovered at the residence on Feb. 5.

The daughter of the elderly woman who owns the property testified that all the furniture was moved around since the last time they visited before March 2020, and many items were missing, among them were a television, DVD player, tools and remodeling supplies.

Many items were also missing from a dilapidated shed that Decosta had inexplicably remodeled. While the shed looked improved through photos submitted to the court, the items were still missing.

Decosta, during his testimony that did him no favors, said he was a master with wood and also was negotiating a professional soccer contract.

Defense attorney Jared Willis had his hands full and paused on several occasions during cross examination of witnesses, likely searching for a miracle question or two that would exonerate his client in the face of overwhelming circumstantial evidence.

Willis put forth a strong closing argument trying to cast doubt on the evidence while not having a lot of support to show his client was innocent, but to no avail.

The jury took about 35 minutes to convict and Judge Suzanne Kingsbury read the verdicts to the stoic defendant.

Decosta’s sentencing is set for Monday, Aug. 23.

Story note: Tribune editor Bill Rozak was a member of the jury.

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