Judge Katherine D. Savage couldn’t reconcile the Patrick Lazear many character witnesses described with the young man she was about to sentence for his role in the March 2006 robbery of a Smoothie King. How could one of the Washington, D.C. area’s most promising high-school football players, a solid student with such a strong support network of family and friends, take part in a criminal conspiracy that netted him $35?
"I say to myself, ‘Who are you? Which one are you?’" Savage said to Lazear, "because this does not make sense."
"I think I’m the person that people described," Lazear said, referring to the witnesses who testified on his behalf. "I’m speechless. … I made a bad mistake."
On Dec. 15, two weeks after Lazear pleaded guilty to the common-law misdemeanor of conspiracy to commit robbery, Judge Savage sentenced Lazear to 10 years’ incarceration, with all but eight months and 12 days suspended. He will serve an active sentence of 10 days in jail, plus 30 additional days on house arrest (he had already served more than six months on house arrest), probation for three years, restitution and 150 hours of community service.
"This is not a prank. This is some serious business," Savage said.
Paul Kemp, Lazear’s defense attorney, advised Lazear to bring an additional pair of shoes to the courtroom, so he could change into them in the event he received a jail sentence. After the sentence, a sheriff handcuffed Lazear, removed his necktie and handed it to Lazear’s family, then led him out of the courtroom.
Lazear is one of five former Walt Whitman High School students charged in connection with the robbery of $463 from a Smoothie King at 7200 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda on March 30, 2006. All five codefendants were arrested and indicted as adults; all were 17 years old at the time of the offense. According to the state’s version of the offense, Lazear provided codefendant Robert Warren with the replica BB-pistol that Warren used in the robbery, and Lazear drove the getaway vehicle.
LAZEAR’S PARENTS were the ones "looking like they just got their world knocked away," Judge Savage said. "They did not bring you up so they could see this."
In juvenile court, Savage said, she will often ask parents if they want to say anything before their child is sentenced. She offered this opportunity to Lazear’s parents. "I don’t usually do this in adult court," Savage said.
Both of Lazear’s parents rose from their seats, held hands and spoke in voices trembling with emotion.
"Pat’s made some mistakes," said his mother Angela Lazear. She said she was sorry both to Judge Savage and the community.
"He was the leader on the football field, but he’s a kid," Angela Lazear said, referring to testimony from character witnesses who described her son as obedient and coachable. "He did whatever he was told to do." She felt that Pat Lazear was probably just as compliant with his friends, and wanted to please them.
"Pat is a great kid, and we stand behind him," his father Harry Lazear said. He added that he hoped "forgiveness is out there."
PAUL KEMP, Lazear’s defense attorney, described the offense as a misdemeanor-level theft.
Referring to a transcript from Warren’s sentencing and the defense used by Warren’s attorney David Driscoll, Kemp said, "This was always intended as a theft," and that the amount stolen was a misdemeanor level (under $500). "There was only supposed to be a complicit party present."
Last Friday, Kemp only called one witness to testify on Lazear’s behalf. More than a half-dozen witnesses that ranging from a Whitman teacher to a Montgomery County police officer to a retired Montgomery county judge testified on Lazear’s behalf during a juvenile motion hearing in August.
Lazear, Kemp said, never denied that he was a participant in this case. Lazear’s core wrongdoing in the offense, Kemp said, was in not stopping it. Lazear was somebody his codefendants looked up to, and he could have stopped it, Kemp said.
Kemp submitted evidence of Lazear’s model behavior while under supervision. Lazear made the honor roll at Wheaton High School and did volunteer work at Manna Food Center.
Kemp asked the court that, if Lazear were to be incarcerated, that it be for a brief period, and proportionate to Warren’s 30-day sentence.
ASSISTANT STATE’S ATTORNEY Tom DeGonia asked the court to consider the deterrent effect in sentencing, and the impact it had on the wider community, to send a message "that you will have some accountability for your actions." He asked the court to impose some period of active incarceration.
DeGonia described Lazear as a leader. "With that leadership came some responsibilities." While agreeing that Lazear’s role was less than that of Warren’s, DeGonia stressed that as the driver of the getaway vehicle, Lazear played a major role. "I can’t help but think … he was encouraging it to go along," DeGonia said.
"I DO NOT EXPECT to see you again," Savage told Lazear after he’d been sentenced. "Please do not make the mistake of violating this probation."
Like all of his codefendants, Lazear transferred out of Whitman last August, just before the school year started. Lazear attended Wheaton High School this fall, and Kemp said he made honor roll and has completed the courses he needs to graduate from high school.
Lazear was the third of the codefendants to be sentenced. Warren pleaded guilty to armed robbery, and in October was sentenced to 30 days in jail. The case of codefendant Thomas Ashley III was transferred to juvenile court, and earlier this month he was sentenced to probation and 100 hours of community service.
"In any conspiracy they have different levels of culpability. … I think the sentences so far reflect that involvement," DeGonia said.
The two other codefendants, Justin Schweiger and Alexander Krouskas, both filed motions to be tried as juveniles that were denied; Krouskas is scheduled to face trial in January 2007.
Schweiger was convicted by a jury in November of conspiracy to commit robbery, and he will be sentenced in January 2007.
LAZEAR'S OTHER SENTENCE?
At Patrick Lazear’s sentencing hearing, defense attorney Paul Kemp argued that the state’s interests of punishment and deterrence had already been served. Lazear served two days in jail after his arrest last May, and under bond conditions since then, he’d been under electronic surveillance with a 7 p.m. curfew.
But Kemp also said that negative media coverage of Lazear, a star football player who once had more than 20 athletic scholarship offers from Division I-A football programs, was like another sentence.
Lazear had been under intense scrutiny from the press, Kemp said. "He is under an added level of punishment," said Kemp.
More than a half-dozen reporters were in the courtroom where Judge Katherine D. Savage presided over Lazear’s sentencing hearing, and there were television cameras downstairs by the building’s entrance.
"Pat needs mercy," said Angela Lazear, Patrick’s mother. "He hasn’t gotten it from many people in this room."
Just before the school year started, Montgomery County Public Schools transferred Lazear and the other four codefendants to different county high schools. Lazear was transferred to Wheaton High School. "He did not appeal that," said Lazear’s defense attorney Paul Kemp.
Instead, Kemp said, Lazear made the best of his situation. With Kemp’s encouragement, Lazear went out for the Wheaton football team. "He’s one of the very few white players on the team," Kemp said, but the Wheaton players embraced him as a teammate. The players elected Lazear a team captain less than three weeks after he arrived.
One of Wheaton’s assistant football coaches, who is a Montgomery County police officer, testified at Lazear’s juvenile motion hearing. Wheaton’s coaches were not permitted to testify at Lazear’s sentencing hearing, said Kemp, but "they remain committed to Patrick doing well."
Fans at Wheaton’s road games were a different story. "He has been the subject of taunts and jeers," Kemp said. Hecklers called Lazear "convict," among other insults, Kemp said.
"Many people have been abusive to me," Lazear said just before he was sentenced.
Kemp said he felt that Lazear weathered all the scrutiny and taunts "with class, and with genuine remorse." Lazear viewed much of the notoriety, Kemp said, as additional punishment for what he did.
"Publicity … will follow him into the jail," Kemp said, adding that he discussed with Lazear what he should do if he was challenged by other inmates in jail.
Under this magnitude of scrutiny, Kemp said, Lazear is "almost cursed."
"I concede there has been a level of punishment," said Assistant State’s Attorney Tom DeGonia, who prosecuted the cases of Lazear and the other four codefendants.
Judge Savage also said she knew that the press was following Lazear’s case, and that it has added discomfort to his life.
After sentencing, however, DeGonia said, "If you are getting the press, as you will for being an All-Met [football] player … you’re enjoying the publicity," DeGonia said. On the flip side, DeGonia said, in doing something negative, "you’re going to get negative publicity. … There are collateral consequences."
"I’m going to give you a lot of background time here," said Judge Katherine D. Savage just before she sentenced Patrick Lazear for his role in the March 2006 robbery of a Bethesda Smoothie King, Lazear received a sentence of 10 years’ incarceration, with all but eight months and 12 days suspended, an active sentence of 10 days in jail, 30 additional days on house arrest, probation for three years, restitution and 150 hours of community service.
Lazear’s jail sentence was less than that of codefendant Robert Warren, who entered the Smoothie King with a replica-BB handgun, robbed the business of $463, and kept the lion’s share of the money. After pleading guilty to armed robbery, Warren was sentenced in October to 30 days in jail, three months’ house arrest and a suspended five-year prison sentence.
Savage acknowledged that Lazear had a lesser role in the offense than Warren.
Under terms of probation Lazear may not travel out of state, except for school, work or volunteering purposes, and then only in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. (Prosecutor Tom DeGonia said this usually includes the District of Columbia and its adjacent counties in Virginia and Maryland.) However, DeGonia said that it is not uncommon for probation conditions to be flexible for somebody who enlists in the military or attends college out of state.
After Lazear was arrested last May, he spent two days in jail. From then until his sentencing hearing last Friday, he was under continuous electronic monitoring, with three exceptions. He was permitted to attend football camp in Salisbury, Md. and to go to The Ohio State University on a recruiting visit. While under electronic monitoring, Lazear had a strict curfew of 7 p.m. — with exceptions for football games on Fridays.
"He has abided that perfectly," said Paul Kemp, Lazear’s defense attorney.
Savage referred to the $35 Lazear received from the stolen money.
"[This] makes me wonder whether you have any idea what money is all about," Savage said to Lazear. In sentencing him to 150 hours of community service, Savage instructed Lazear to continue his recent volunteer work at Manna Food Center.
"I want you to look at people who don’t even have 35 cents," Savage told Lazear. "They don’t have what you have, and they never will. … They’re not out robbing Smoothie King."