Man sentenced to prison for armed robberies
Lawrence D. Elwell, 34, admitted last fall to the January 2016 robberies of the local Subway sandwich shop and Paulin's gas and laundromat in North Bennington. Elwell, of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., also admitted to breaking into the home of an 86-year-old woman in December 2015 and pointing a gun at her home aide.
Judge David A. Howard on Friday imposed a nine-to-twenty year prison sentence. Howard noted that any one of the crimes could have been "the most serious this court would have dealt with in a year."
"This community was in terror," Deputy State's Attorney Robert Plunkett said during the hearing in Vermont Superior Court, Bennington criminal division. "It was something unheard of, entirely, a string of [robberies] in this degree. Elwell was a big reason for all of that."
Plunkett acknowledged the firearm was not used in the incidents. But for the victims, the sight of a handgun gave them great emotional stress and fear, not knowing whether it would go off during the altercation.
Friday's hour-long sentencing hearing played out in an empty courtroom.
The victims, Plunkett said, "don't want to hear it again, to live it again. They want to move on."
The homeowner died last month at the age of 88.
Plunkett, quoting the homeowner's statement in a pre-sentence investigative report: "This will affect me for the rest of my life."
When a man entered a Putnam Street home at about 2 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2015 by smashing a window, he encountered the elderly home owner's caretaker. She later told police that the man pointed a gun at her and demanded to see the safe. She said she laid her body over the elderly woman, who was in bed and had woken up, to protect her. The man took off with valuables.
Investigators connected Elwell to the theft, as well as two Bennington women: Jessica A. Harrington and Amanda J. Sausville, who told police they waited in a car while Elwell broke into the home, but drove off because they got nervous when he took too long.
Police would later tie Elwell to more armed robberies. A suspect entered the Subway on North Street just before midnight on Jan. 8, 2016, pointed a gun at two employees, and demanded money, leaving on foot after getting cash. Two days later, someone entered Paulin's on Bank Street in North Bennington just before 7 p.m., brandished a gun at the clerk, then fled on foot after taking cash.
A third woman, Lillian N. King, was found to be connected to the Subway and Paulin's robberies. King admitted to helping Elwell rob both businesses by acting as a driver and a scout, as well as purchasing the handgun he used.
Elwell pleaded guilty in the same court in September to assault and robbery with a weapon, stemming from the home invasion. For the robberies of Subway and Paulin's, he pleaded guilty to burglary carrying a deadly weapon, and assault and robbery with a weapon, respectively. Elwell also admitted to eluding state troopers when they tried to arrest him in February 2016. New York State Police arrested him on Interstate 87 just outside of Clifton Park.
"The punishment for what he did must be severe and the supervision must be long," Plunkett said.
The state requested a 10-to-20 year sentence to serve in prison, which Plunkett said would incapacitate Elwell and give him plenty of time for supervision if he is released on furlough.
Plunkett said Elwell has expressed regret and remorse for his actions, which he and defense attorney Frederick Bragdon, representing Elwell, said were motivated by substance abuse.
"After his arrest, after he was sober, he was very helpful and cooperative," Plunkett said.
Plunkett said that's why the state wasn't asking for a life sentence: Elwell was charged as a habitual offender, a sentencing enhancement that lifts the maximum penalty. His past criminal history includes assault and burglaries.
"There's nothing here to suggest he's not salvageable," Bragdon said of Elwell.
Bragdon requested a split sentence of 10-to-20 years, with probation supervision conditions aiming to address Elwell's substance abuse. Bragdon said Elwell has been participating in education and other programs while incarcerated. A former longtime employer expressed Elwell was a good worker for 15 years, he said.
Elwell declined to speak during the hearing.
Howard gave Elwell a two-to-three year sentence for the eluding charge. Each assault and burglary charge carries a nine-to-twenty year sentence. All sentences will run concurrent and include credit for time served.
The three woman have pleaded guilty to aiding in committing assault and robbery with a deadly weapon. Sausville, 36, pleaded guilty in September 2016 and received a two-to-ten year suspended sentence. Harrington, 35, received a four-to-ten year suspended sentence after pleading guilty last April. King, 31, was given a three-year deferred sentence after pleading guilty in December 2016.
Ed Damon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.
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