Minutes before Robert Warren was to receive a sentence for armed robbery, Judge Paul H. Weinstein asked him why he’d done it. Few in the courtroom expected to hear the detailed answer Warren gave.
"I don’t think anybody was anticipating that was going to happen," said Assistant State’s Attorney Tom DeGonia.
AFTER HEARING Warren’s statement, Weinstein said, "What I’m about to do, young man, is not going to be very pleasant for you."
Weinstein sentenced Warren to five years’ imprisonment, with all but four months suspended, at a sentencing hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Thursday, Oct. 19. Warren will serve 30 days in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility near Clarksburg, and spend the remaining 90 days on supervised house arrest. As part of special conditions of sentencing, Weinstein ordered Warren to keep a daily diary while he is in the Clarksburg jail, and to speak to two high schools about his experience there.
Warren, whose head was shaved nearly bald, cooperated while he was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom.
Warren is one of five former Walt Whitman High School students to be indicted for armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery in relation to the holdup of a Smoothie King in Bethesda last March. All five students have been transferred by the county to different schools. Three of them — Patrick Lazear, Justin Schweiger and Alexander Krouskas — will be tried as adults in the upcoming months. The other one, Thomas Ashley, will be tried as a juvenile.
According to police, Warren wore a mask and a hooded sweatshirt when he entered the Smoothie King at 7200 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda on March 30, approached two male employees — one of whom was Krouskas — displayed a handgun and demanded money. Police said the employees gave the Warren $463 in cash, and he fled the store and went to a vehicle driven by Lazear, where Schweiger, Ashley, and Warren’s then-girlfriend were waiting.
"THIS IS ROBERT’S time for accountability," said David Driscoll, Warren’s attorney, at Thursday’s sentencing hearing.
Driscoll acknowledged that Warren was a willing participant in a "planned theft." However, he took issue with descriptions of Warren as the leader. "The characterization of Robert as the Alpha male … was probably self-serving," Driscoll said.
"It’s wrong-headed and ill-advised to plan the robbery in the first place," said Driscoll, and it was equally wrong-headed to continue with the plan once inside, with somebody besides Krouskas at the cash register. "There’s nothing about the plan that has any worthwhile aspect to it," Driscoll said.
Driscoll also said that Warren’s case has been "exposed to the very harsh light of the media." Many defendants, Driscoll said, "never contend with the public aspect of this proceeding." In a probable allusion to Lazear, a football linebacker/running back who was being recruited by more than 20 Division I college programs, Driscoll said, "What drives this coverage, I think, is not Robert."
Driscoll asked the court to consider that the gun was not Warren’s. "He expects some period of incarceration. … We’re going to ask for it to be the shortest possible length of time," Driscoll said. "He’s nervous about what you’re going to do. I’m nervous about what you’re going to do."
"THE SERIOUSNESS of this offense calls for a serious sentence," said prosecutor DeGonia, who determined the applicable sentencing guidelines to call for a sentence of 2-7 years. DeGonia had requested 18 months in jail for Warren, who had a prior juvenile adjudication for discharging a weapon, according to DeGonia.
At the hearing, DeGonia described "everyone’s inability to answer the question why. … They didn’t need the money; they clearly didn’t want the notoriety."
For whatever reason, DeGonia said, "These are young men who feel … that they can get away with it. … They don’t think there is going to be any consequence for what they did," DeGonia said.
DeGonia demonstrated the gun Warren used when he entered the Smoothie King. The gun is heavy, shiny and has a magazine, he said. An officer on the scene would have been completely justified in shooting somebody wielding the gun, DeGonia said.
"This wasn’t a youthful indiscretion; this is armed robbery," DeGonia said. He said Warren carried out his role with enthusiasm. He said an 18-month cap on Warren’s jail time would keep him incarcerated locally. "He has to understand that this type of behavior is unacceptable," DeGonia said.
BEFORE JUDGE WEINSTEIN sentenced Warren, he asked if Warren wished to say anything. Warren spoke at great length.
"I know completely what I did was wrong," Warren said. He added there was nothing that he could say to justify what he had done or make himself look like a good person.
Warren then described how out of his element he felt after transferring into Whitman from John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring. "To answer why, I wanted to fit in," Warren said.
"I was the big dog in [Kennedy]," Warren said. He said he was one of the school’s best athletes, he was a good student, and his teachers and classmates liked him.
"I transferred to Whitman. … I was a much smaller fish," Warren said. "When I went there … I didn’t get along with [most] of the kids."
It wasn’t until partway through the wrestling season in the winter that Warren began talking much to the students who would later become his codefendants, he said. Referring to Lazear, Warren said, "To be around this kid made me feel good. … He was a god. … I wanted that feeling.
"It’s kind of sad … the fact that I couldn’t distinguish myself from another person," Warren added.
THE IDEA TO ROB the Smoothie King where Krouskas worked came up during school, Warren said.
"It wasn’t my idea," Warren said, adding that it wasn’t Schweiger’s or Ashley’s idea. "It was Pat and Alex’s."
Later that day, Warren said Krouskas was reconsidering the idea. "Pat got pissed at him," Warren said.
Warren said that both he and Krouskas had second thoughts. "I told Pat … ‘I’m not sure about this.’ … I thought that all of us were going to do it," Warren said, later adding, "I never thought that we were going to single one person out."
Warren said that Lazear and Ashley were both too recognizable to enter the Smoothie King. "To be honest, it was down between me and Justin. … I made the very, very dumb decision to go in," Warren said.
Warren said he entered Smoothie King, an employee came out who wasn’t Krouskas, but Warren went ahead with the plan, took the money and put it in a bag, and walked out. He said he then went out for pizza with Lazear, Schweiger and Ashley.
"All the other kids are good kids. We just made a horrible mistake," Warren said.
JUDGE WEINSTEIN asked Warren about his plans for the future. Warren said he was interested in a number of colleges, including Penn State, Colorado State, Penn and the University of South Carolina. He took the SAT, but wasn’t sure if he’d be allowed to go out of state to college.
As Weinstein sentenced Warren, he produced a notepad that he wanted Warren to use as a diary while in jail. He wanted to review the diary after Warren finished his sentence, and then have Warren speak to at least two high schools about his experience.
"Hopefully it will deter somebody else your age," Weinstein said.
DeGonia had similar sentiments after the hearing.
"I think the judge is looking for something positive to come out of it," DeGonia said, who said that such conditions were not very common, but not inappropriate, either. "Hopefully he goes on with his life and does what he is supposed to do now."