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Two sentenced to prison in home invasion robbery

A man and woman who robbed an 81-year-old man in his home last fall have been sentenced to prison.

Gary R. Betz and Heather L. Crouse, both 23, pleaded no contest this week to robbery charges. Betz was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Crouse received a five-year prison sentence, court records show.

Largo police say the pair robbed Don Warneke in his East Bay Oaks home in September. The pair donned masks and barged into Warneke's home, then tied him up and sealed his mouth with duct tape. They took his phone and about $200 cash from his wallet and money clip before taking off in his white Lincoln Town Car.

It took Warneke about an hour to free himself. He is a friend of Betz's family. Police said Betz and Crouse robbed him to get money for drugs. Both were heroin addicts, police said.

Police traced calls Betz made on Warneke's cell phone to track the pair down in Hillsborough County. Betz was charged with home invasion robbery, but police only had enough evidence initially to charge Crouse with auto theft. She was released from jail on bail and then was sought for more than a month before she was arrested and also charged with robbery.

Betz, who has a long criminal history in Pinellas County, pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of strong-arm robbery. The 15-year sentence was the minimum he could receive for the crime.

Crouse also was sentenced to five years of probation, which will follow her jail sentence. She is also a witness in the prosecution of a former boyfriend, Michael Aumuller, who is charged with murder. Police say Aumuller sold heroin to a man who later died of an overdose. Crouse was with Aumuller when he sold the drugs, police said. Aumuller's trial is scheduled for May.

Mother given probation for Christmas Day neglect

LARGO _ A woman accused of leaving her two young sons home alone on Christmas Day while she prostituted herself for crack cocaine has been sentenced to probation.

Kelly P. Garza, 40, pleaded no contest on March 3 to a charge of child neglect. She was sentenced to serve 30 months of probation.

Largo police said Garza left her Largo apartment about 9 a.m. on Christmas Day, leaving her sons, ages 7 and 9, to open their gifts by themselves. The boys also were left with no food.

About 12 hours later, the boys went to a neighbor's apartment. The boys were crying and told the neighbor they didn't know where their mother had gone. Both boys said they were hungry. The neighbor called police.

The boys were taken into protective custody. Police arrested Garza the next day.

Garza told police she spent Christmas Day in St. Petersburg exchanging sex for drugs, police said.

Man given 18 months for breaking into home

LARGO _ A man arrested in November on charges that he broke into a home and tried to molest a sleeping girl has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Steven R. Eskra, 32, was charged with entering the home, which is south of Ulmerton Road between Seminole Boulevard and Starkey Road, through an unlocked rear screen door and open sliding-glass door.

Eskra found the child, who is under the age of 12, sleeping on the living room couch. He put his hand under her blanket and touched her on the chest, arrest reports state. The child awoke, and Eskra told her "this is a dream," arrest reports state. She screamed and Eskra ran from the residence, reports state.

Deputies later found Eskra hiding in a back yard. He punched a deputy in the stomach as he was taken into custody, reports state.

He pleaded guilty to multiple charges on Feb. 28.

Stabbing with sword leads to year in jail

CLEARWATER _ A jury last week found a man guilty of battery in connection with an August 2001 stabbing in downtown Clearwater.

A jury found Jean Marcellus, 27, guilty of simple battery, a misdemeanor. He had been charged with aggravated battery, a felony. Marcellus was sentenced to a year in jail.

Clearwater police said Marcellus stabbed a man with a sword after getting into a confrontation with his wife's former co-worker. Police said Marcellus believed the man whom he stabbed had made inappropriate comments to Marcellus' wife while on the job.