Of the five former Walt Whitman High School students indicted for the robbery of a Bethesda Smoothie King last March, only Thomas Ashley III had his case moved to the juvenile justice system.
The transfer of Ashley's case was as it should be, said Ashley’s defense attorney Barry Helfand. Ashley had no prior convictions or juvenile adjudications, and his role was different from those of his codefendants.
“His role was far less than anyone involved,” Helfand said.
Ashley pleaded as an accessory after the fact to a robbery; not, Helfand stressed, robbery with a deadly weapon. Ashley entered his plea during his appearance in the Juvenile Division of Montgomery County Circuit Court on Thursday, Dec. 7. He was sentenced to probation and 100 hours of community service.
“He did not plead guilty or admit that he had any part in the planning of the event,” Helfand said.
“His only involvement was being there without knowing the event was going to take place and not walking away [once he found out].” Helfand said. “After he had heard what they had done … he should have gotten out and walked away.”
Because Ashley’s case was in juvenile court, there were no applicable sentencing guidelines, said Assistant State’s Attorney Tom DeGonia. While DeGonia said he could not comment on specifics of the case because it involved a juvenile, he stressed that sentencing purpose in juvenile court is different from that of adult cases tried in Circuit Court.
“[Juvenile Court’s] focus is on the juvenile and rehabilitation,” DeGonia said.
Because Ashley’s plea was entered in juvenile court, he will not have a criminal conviction on his record, Helfand said.
The plea agreement recognized that each of the five students had a different role, Helfand said, and he commended DeGonia, who prosecuted all five students involved, for not insisting that each of them receive the same punishment.
“WHAT ALL of these kids did was a parent’s worst nightmare,” Helfand said. He described the defendants as “reasonably good, bright kids,” but said, “whatever they did was serious. … It’s not even a good prank.”
Ashley and his classmates Robert Warren, Patrick Lazear, Justin Schweiger and Alexander Krouskas were all charged in connection with the robbery of $463 from the Smoothie King on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda on March 30, 2006. According to the state’s version of the offense, Lazear provided Warren with a replica BB-pistol that Warren used in the offense.
Warren testified that he and the codefendants first discussed the during a sixth-period class at Whitman. The plan, Warren testified, was for Warren to "hold up" their friend Krouskas, who worked as a clerk at Smoothie King. However, Krouskas was not at the counter when Warren entered the Smoothie King, and a different employee entered the room. Warren — dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and ski mask — demanded money, which the clerk handed over to him.
According to Warren’s testimony, Warren took the money and robbery gear to Bethesda Elementary School, where Lazear, Schweiger, Warren’s girlfriend and Ashley were waiting, and Lazear drove them all to Uno’s Pizzeria. On the way there, Warren said, he and Lazear divided the robbery proceeds; they gave Schweiger and Ashley $10 each.
All five of the students were arrested and indicted as adults. All five filed motions to be tried as juveniles — Warren withdrew his motion, and in October pleaded guilty to armed robbery, for which he was sentenced to serve a month in jail.
The court denied the juvenile motions filed by Lazear, Schweiger and Krouskas; Ashley’s case alone was transferred to juvenile court. Last month, a jury found Schweiger guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery, but found him not guilty of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
A week after Schweiger’s conviction, Lazear pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, Dec. 15. Schweiger is scheduled to be sentenced in January, and Krouskas, who worked at the Smoothie King, is scheduled for trial in January.
ASHLEY HOPES TO put the incident behind him and proceed with plans to go to college, Helfand said. Ashley’s grade-point average is higher than 3.80, and he volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, Helfand said. In addition to playing varsity football, Ashley also had a job. “He’d never been in trouble, and I mean any kind of trouble,” Helfand said.
Right before the school year started, Montgomery County Public Schools transferred Ashley to Richard Montgomery High School. Ashley was a varsity football lineman at Whitman, but he was sidelined this year by a knee injury, for which he will undergo surgery shortly, Helfand said.
Ashley expects to graduate next month, Helfand said. He also said that Ashley would have loved to graduate from Whitman. “He loved the school,” Helfand said. “It was devastating for him to have to leave.”