Jurors consider alleged Brattleboro bank robber’s intent
MIKE FAHER , Brattleboro Reformer
BRATTLEBORO -- This much is not in dispute: On the morning of July 19, Shawn Arguin walked into a Brattleboro bank, demanded money, took $4,000, sat down, and then -- after a few minutes passed -- handed the money to a manager.
He was quickly taken into custody after presenting himself to a retired Brattleboro police officer.
What a jury now must consider is whether Arguin, 43, of Jacksonville, Fla., intended to rob Key Bank on Main Street or whether he simply wanted to get himself arrested. The distinction is critical, as it means the difference between a larceny conviction and a conviction on lesser charges -- or an outright acquittal.
In his opening statement on the first day of Arguin’s trial in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, Windham County Deputy State’s Attorney David Gartenstein said the suspect’s words and actions speak for themselves.
He quoted Arguin’s alleged comments when a manager of the bank asked a teller whether she was OK.
"’No, she’s not OK. I just robbed her,’" Gartenstein recalled the suspect saying.
Defense attorney Chris Montgomery said there is no evidence that his client wanted anything to do with the Key Bank’s cash.
"Mr. Arguin went in and pretended to rob this bank and never had any intention of carrying this out," Montgomery said.
According to testimony on Thursday, Arguin entered Key Bank just before 10 a.m. July 19 and lingered in the lobby. Bank teller Miranda Blake noticed him "loitering."
"I asked him if I could help him with something," Blake testified. "He came up to my station and said, ‘No, you can’t help me. I’m robbing you.’"
Arguin asked for $100 bills and $50 bills. Blake also retrieved two stacks of $20 bills from her bottom drawer and placed them on the counter. All told, there was more than $7,000 made available, investigators said.
"He took the bundle of twenties," Blake said. "He said that this will do, and not to worry and to call the police."
She didn’t do so right away, citing a bank security procedure. But that didn’t satisfy Arguin, who had sat down a few feet away.
"He said I needed to call the police," Blake recalled. "I was scared, so I just did what he said to do."
Brattleboro police responded quickly from their station nearby.
"Responding to that type of call is a very dangerous situation to begin with," police Lt. Robert Kirkpatrick testified.
He and his officers staged outside the bank with weapons drawn.
"We’re not going to barrel into something and create more of a situation than what might or might not be there," Kirkpatrick said.
There was confusion both outside and inside the bank. Retired Brattleboro police officer John Frechette walked into the bank as a customer, but Blake told him she couldn’t help him.
"She said she was very busy at the time," Frechette testified.
In fact, Blake was busy. She talked on the phone first with bank security and then with a Brattleboro dispatcher, carefully relaying information about the incident.
In an office at the back of the bank, branch Manager Joanne Sprague did not know anything was wrong until she got a phone call.
"One of my on-call employees telephoned me on my personal line and asked me if it was OK for her to come into the bank because there were police on Main Street with guns drawn," Sprague said.
She walked into the bank lobby and saw Arguin sitting in a chair, Blake talking on the phone and Frechette -- whom she recognized and knew by his nickname, Zippo -- waiting. Nothing looked obviously amiss.
"I walked up to John Frechette and said, ‘Zippo, what did you do? Bring a show of force with you today?’" Sprague recalled.
That’s when, according to investigators, Arguin took it upon himself to tell Sprague that he had robbed the bank and approached her with the cash. She is trained to not touch money during a robbery, so she was hesitant at first -- until Arguin angrily insisted.
The suspect then solicited help from Frechette.
"The subject looked at me, asked me if I’m a cop," Frechette testified. "After a short pause, I said, ‘Yes, I am.’"
Frechette led Arguin outside, where he was arrested without incident.
Arguin initially was charged with two felony counts -- attempted grand larceny and larceny from a person. Gartenstein later added two counts -- false pretenses and false public alarms.
Before jurors entered the courtroom, Montgomery argued that the state essentially was hedging its bets with the latter two charges, making it difficult to mount a defense. But Gartenstein said the second set of charges simply offer "alternate theories as to the defendant’s state of mind."
Judge David Suntag gave Arguin the option to delay the trial and appeal the issue. But Arguin, who has been incarcerated, elected to move forward.
After opening statements, Gartenstein ran through eight witnesses in less than three hours of testimony. Montgomery largely confined his questions to brief inquiries about Arguin’s actions.
"He never put the money in his pockets?" Montgomery asked Blake during cross-examination. "Never tried to walk out of the lobby?"
In both cases, she said no.
After the prosecution rested Thursday afternoon, Arguin told Suntag that he will not be testifying.
Also, Suntag rejected a request by Montgomery to acquit Arguin on three of the charges. The trial was scheduled to continue Friday morning.
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