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Jury convicts Lalonde in Ogdensburg murder, clears co-defendants

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CANTON — Anthony W. Lalonde stared silently at the defense table as the verdict was read.

After nine days of testimony, more than two-dozen witnesses, closing arguments and about four hours of deliberation since Monday afternoon, nine men and three women filed into a St. Lawrence County courtroom at 1:43 p.m. Tuesday. The jury pronounced Lalonde, 32, Ogdensburg, guilty of first-degree robbery, then guilty of second-degree murder in the Nov. 18, 2010, death of Ralph E. “Gene” Lawton.

Mr. Lawton, 83, who lived in an upstairs apartment at 930 Ford St., Ogdensburg, died of injuries suffered in a scuffle after three masked men burst in demanding cash and drugs shortly before 6 p.m. that afternoon.

As Lalonde stood still, his two co-defendants learned their fate: Michael S. Thorpe, 26, and Michael D. Durand, 30, also Ogdensburg residents, both were found not guilty of the same charges.

Mr. Thorpe covered his face. Mr. Durand cried.

But only one man walked free. Mr. Durand was returned to the county lockup in Canton to await a May 20 sentencing date in an unrelated burglary case.

Lalonde faces 25 years to life when he is sentenced on July 8.

Relatives of Lalonde and Mr. Durand quietly left the building. Mr. Thorpe said little as his defense attorney, William John Galvin, answered reporters’ questions, praising jurors and the jury system.

“It’s still unbelievable. I’d like to thank Mr. Galvin,” Mr. Thorpe said quietly.

“I just want to see my kids,” Mr. Thorpe added, before following his lawyer down the stairs toward freedom.

Mr. Durand’s attorney, Gary W. Miles, said his client was steadfast in maintaining his innocence.

“We did have a couple of pretty good plea bargain offers on the table that in my experience, most clients would have taken. My fear in this case was that I had a guy who was not guilty and that he might be found guilty,” Mr. Miles said.

For Lalonde and his attorney, Lloyd G. Grandy II, such fears were realized Tuesday afternoon.

“Frankly, I’m surprised. I thought the evidence that went in made it clear that my client wasn’t there on the night that this occurred,” Mr. Grandy said.

The prosecution’s case aimed to prove differently, producing forensic evidence showing that Lalonde’s DNA “could not be excluded” from a glove found in the kitchen of the apartment Mr. Lawton shared with Guy C. Bartlett.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Amanda N. Nissen, who prosecuted the case, reminded reporters Tuesday how a scientist from the state police crime lab in Albany testified that there was a 1 in 51.23 million chance of a random individual matching the DNA profile attributed to Lalonde.

“One of the most important pieces of evidence that we had in this case was that Mr. Lalonde’s DNA was found in the glove that was left behind at the scene,” Ms. Nissen said.

Testimony revealed no DNA evidence linking Mr. Durand or Mr. Thorpe to the scene.

Ms. Nissen and District Attorney Nicole M. Duve both acknowledged that the prosecution had stronger evidence against Lalonde than his co-defendants. Ms. Nissen said she had discussed that with members of Mr. Lawton’s family, and that they were pleased with the outcome.

Of the three defendants, only Mr. Thorpe took the stand in his own defense.

Mr. Thorpe testified that the day of the incident, he drove his girlfriend’s car a block and a half to 930 Ford St. at about 5:30 p.m. and went upstairs, where he saw Mr. Lawton and Mr. Bartlett eating pizza. After talking about the pizza and a debt he owed Mr. Lawton, Mr. Thorpe said he paid $40 for 40 milligrams of OxyContin, went home and then smoked the pill in his bedroom.

Mr. Thorpe said he played no part in the planning or execution of any robbery, and that Mr. Durand was back at his apartment the whole time.

Mr. Bartlett was 18 miles away from the St. Lawrence County Courthouse Tuesday afternoon, sitting in his kitchen in the same spot where he was the afternoon three masked men broke in and terrorized him and his roommate.

He pointed to the spot where Mr. Lawton had been knocked onto the floor, and where the intruders tossed Mr. Bartlett, then 64, onto the older, smaller man. According to a forensic examiner’s testimony, a pre-existing aortic aneurysm in Mr. Lawton’s abdomen burst, causing fatal internal bleeding.

“If there were three guys here, why weren’t there three guys convicted?” Mr. Bartlett said, acknowledging that he never did see the faces of those three men.

Mr. Bartlett doesn’t deny that Mr. Lawton was “deep into” the drug trade, even enlisting his help making transactions. He also remembered his roommate as a good-hearted man.

“You can’t begin to believe what he would do for a fella,” Mr. Bartlett said.

He only disputed one thing Tuesday: Mr. Thorpe’s testimony that he openly visited the apartment before the intruders to buy drugs the day of the robbery.

“It didn’t happen that way,” Mr. Bartlett said, shaking his head. “It didn’t happen that way.”


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