NORWICH – Following a day-long trial a Norwich man was found guilty of robbing a high-school-age pharmacy clerk by pretending he had a weapon.
Investigators said the man decided to rob a pharmacy near his home in Norwich because he wanted money to get high on heroin and meth.
No weapon was ever found or revealed in the following police investigation.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher A. Curley was the lead prosecutor in the case, with District Attorney Michael Ferrarese supervising. Attorney Scott Clippinger represented the defense. In court the defense called no witnesses and claimed the incident was a petit larceny, criminally equivalent to a minor theft like shoplifting. The defense did not respond for comment Tuesday or by press time Wednesday morning.
After opting away from a jury trial at the defense's request, Chenango County Court Judge Frank Revoir convicted David Daniel Brunell, 30, of third degree robbery, a non-violent D class felony at about 2 p.m. on Tuesday and sent him to county jail to await sentencing. The judge will decide his sentence on December 19. Brunell faces between two years and four months to seven years in state prison.
“This is an excellent verdict because hopefully it sends the message in the community that people understand, that if you go into a business and forcibly steal property, you’re going to be held accountable,” said Ferrarese.
Prosecutors hypothesized the act mimicked a threat of a weapon, and its desperation and impulsiveness implied an individual with an out of control substance addiction.
Of course no one knew that at the time of the robbery. For their own safety the victim and responding police considered the suspect armed.
Investigators said it was unlikely a real weapon was used and one was never seen, but the DA and police stopped short of completely ruling out the possibility.
“We will never know for sure,” said the DA.
“The motive in this particular case is, unfortunately, the defendant is addicted to heroin. He used the money he obtained from the cashier to immediately go to his dealer to purchase heroin and consume it,” said Ferrarese.
The incident occurred in the evening, at about 7:20 p.m., on Feb. 4, 2021.
“The defendant entered the Walgreens. He was seen on surveillance camera,” said the DA.
According to court testimony Brunell was wearing a camouflage balaclava mask, but a tattoo on the side of his neck was still visible on the videos and would help police identify him later.
“He approached the cash register after being there a short period of time,” Ferrarese said.
At the register was a high school teen working an after school job. He also testified for the prosecution at the trial.
Ferrarese said, “[Brunell] had his hand in his pocket and made an assertive action, as if he had something in his pocket, a weapon of some type or a gun, and demanded the cashier give money in the register.”
The youth, surprised and frightened, hesitated. The robber again made a gesture with his hand in his pocket and spoke.
“[Brunell] then reaffirmed his demand by telling him, 'I am not joking,'” Ferrarese said.
The victim handed over the $86.50 in small bills that was in the register.
“And the cashier at the Walgreens followed the command and did as he was trained, and followed Walgreens protocol and turned over the money,” said Ferrarese.
After getting the cash, the robber immediately fled.
The Norwich City Police Department did receive a call of a robbery in progress at Walgreens and responded within moments, but the suspect was gone by the time they arrived.
“We were able to get a very good description of the clothing the defendant was wearing from the surveillance camera and from the cashier,” said the DA.
Following an overnight investigation, several hours later Norwich Police Officer Scott Laughlin recognized Brunell on a city street and believed he was the suspect. Though Brunell had change some of his clothes, some of it still matched what he wore during the robbery and his tattoo was visible, Laughlin testified.
“Within the same police shift, about 10 hours later a person with identifiable clothing and neck tattoo was seen in the area of Walgreens not far from were he resided, and [police] approached him and were able to recover a lot of the clothing used during the robbery, and then back at the police station he admitted and made a confession to being the person who robbed Walgreens,” said the DA.
Brunell lived near the store with his mother, who was also called by the prosecution to testify at Monday's trial.
Norwich Detective Sergeant Reuben Roach testified he took Brunell's confession during an interview at the police station.
“He made admissions he entered the store and demanded the money,” said Roach.
“The individual was arrested, he was interviewed, during the interview he confessed to the crime, he was issued an appearance ticket, and he walked out the front door,” said Roach
“With bail reform we are arresting the same people five or six times before they even go to jail. And with every arrest there is almost always a victim standing behind that crime,” said Roach.
Following the trial police discussed some of the elements of local crime and drug use.
They estimated that there was a serious increase in local crimes and overdoses and deaths, though no figures have been presented.
Roach estimated Norwich had multiple overdoses every week and at least one death every two or three weeks. He said some crimes were up by as much as 40 or 50 percent.
“This is a case where you have an underage victim, a young male cashier who essentially believed his life was being threatened if he didn't turn over the money from the cash register, and the individual that did that was able to leave police that day without stepping into a courtroom,” said Roach.
Ferrarese agreed that bail reform had made the community less safe.
“My opinion has not changed on bail reform: people who use force to steal property from another, that should be a bailable offense. You are a danger to the community and businesses, hard working productive citizens trying to support themselves and families and you put them in harm's way,” he said.
“Appearing in court should not be the only factor. Danger to the community should be a factor,” said Ferrarese.