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Juvenile or Adult?

Court to decide if former Whitman students will be tried as adults for armed robbery.

In coming weeks, the five local students who were indicted on armed robbery charges last spring will know whether they are to be tried as adults or as juveniles. Decades of their lives could hang in the balance.

Thomas W. Ashley III, Alexander C. Krouskas, Patrick J. Lazear, Justin W. Schweiger, and Robert S. Warren, were all 17-year-old Walt Whitman High School students when they were indicted on June 15 by a Montgomery County grand jury on one count each of armed robbery and one count each of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

The charges relate to an incident in which, according to police, an armed and masked gunman entered the Smoothie King at 7200 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda on March 30, approached two male employees, displayed a handgun and demanded money. Police said the employees gave the gunman $463 in cash, and the gunman fled the store.

According to police, Krouskas, who was one of the employees at the time of the robbery, identified Warren as the person who committed the robbery. According to police, Warren later admitted to committing the robbery, and identified Ashley, Krouskas, Lazear and Schweiger as participants in the planning and commission of the robbery.

The defendants are scheduled for status hearings in less than a month, for the court to determine whether they will be tried in the juvenile system or as adults.

“Each case is being treated differently in court, as it should be,” said Daniel Steven, a defense attorney for Schweiger.

A trail date is scheduled for early October, but the resolution of each defendant’s status hearing is one of several factors that could change the date. If tried as adults, each defendant faces a sentence of up to 20 years in jail, if convicted.

THREE of the students were transferred out of Whitman by the county school system. Schweiger was transferred to Rockville High School, Ashley to Richard Montgomery High School, and Lazear to Wheaton High School.

The school transfer “was not at our request,” Steven said. Schweiger hopes to return to Whitman, according to Steven. “[We’re] appealing the transfer from Whitman, which was his home, neighborhood school,” Steven said.

Barry Helfand, defense attorney for Ashley, said that Ashley “would love to be back at Whitman. I don’t know if the family will appeal the decision.”

Schweiger, Ashley and Lazear were all varsity football players at Whitman last year. The lawyers for Schweiger and Ashley both said their clients hope to continue playing varsity football this fall.

Lazear, a star running back and defensive back, was being recruited by Division I college football programs. Heading into his senior year, he already held the career records for touchdowns (33) and yardage (2,207) for Whitman’s 44-year-old program. On at least three occasions since his arrest, the court suspended his bond conditions so Lazear could visit a university and attend football camp, according to court documents.

Lazear’s bond conditions were temporarily modified so he could visit the Ohio State University campus June 5-8, and was to attend football camp in Salisbury, Md. from Aug. 4-7.

Schweiger’s and Ashley’s attorneys both maintained the innocence of their clients, and said they intend to fight the charges.

“He’s a model kid,” Helfand said about Ashley.

“We’re hoping that Justin can prove his innocence and he can go back to a normal life,” Steven said.