The Juneau man charged with robbing a downtown jewelry store at gunpoint March 29 changed his plea to guilty Tuesday in Juneau Superior Court.
Nathan Block pleaded guilty before Judge Philip Pallenberg to first-degree robbery, a class ‘A’ felony. In return, the state dismissed a charge of first-degree theft, although Block admits to the conduct.
The charges involve Block pointing a handgun at a clerk in Lambros Goldsmith on Franklin Street, tying her up, and taking items from the store. Block was apprehended roughly five hours later.
An ‘A’ felony is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Block agreed to open sentencing by Pallenberg on Sept. 8.
As part of the plea, the court would decide whether Block employed a dangerous instrument during the robbery. Such a finding would subject block to a sentencing range of seven to 11 years, though mitigating and aggravating circumstances could alter that frame. If the court doesn’t find that Block used a dangerous instrument, he would face a five- to eight-year sentence.
“Mr. Block wanted to take responsibility for what he did,” Block’s attorney Eric Hedland stated after court.
According to Block’s friends, the acts Block committed were not consistent with the young man they grew up with, but were the result of a man changed by war. Block had served two tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army.
Juneau resident Giono Barrett said Block arrived at his house in spring 2010 and stayed with him last summer until moving in with a woman. Barrett had lived with Block in Minnesota.
“In retrospect, recently he was definitely becoming distant from me,” Barrett said. “I wasn’t even seeing him that often around town and was really wondering what he was up to. We definitely felt some distance there like he was getting into his own thing and kind of thinking a little strange.”
Barrett said Block stayed with him last summer and then most recently was staying with a woman and helping take care of her children.
“There may have been some pressure there I think of helping her with her family,” Barrett said. “He really just jumped into that and the pressure got to him and not taking care of some of the problems, in retrospect, that I am sure he had going on.”
Carl Foss said he has known Block since he was 11 years old. He said the two graduated from the same high school class in Anoka, Minn.
“Even when he was home between tours he lived with me and my ex-girlfriend in Anoka,” Foss said. “Honestly, since he went over there he has been really inconsistent. His behavior was a lot more steady until he went over there and came back, especially the first time.”
Hedland said he believed Block served in the National Guard from 2005–10. His last deployment was in 2009.
Friends say Block was injured in Iraq during his second tour when a roadside IUD exploded, killing another soldier next to him and rolling the Humvee they were in. Block suffered an injury to his eye.
“He was kind of putting help off,” Barrett said. “I felt like there were all these loopholes he was trying to jump through to get benefits from them. It sounds like it has been difficult for him to get help. He was telling me the military claimed they were going to take care of him, that they were going to do a surgery for him, yet it wasn’t going through. And it is a year later and none of that has happened yet. He was getting frustrated getting the benefits he worked so hard for.”
Another friend from Minneapolis, Sarah Cramer, stated in an email that many of his friends back there are scared, worried, and shocked about Block’s arrest and want him to know that they are thinking about him.
Foss said the two played hockey together growing up. Block’s mother died and Block stayed with Barrett’s cousins.
Barrett said he visited Block in Lemon Creek Correctional Center and Block looked relieved.
“It appeared to be a break from his life being in jail,” Barrett said. “It was like he felt safe there and it was a sign that something was going on with him. He feels like he can get the help he needed and wasn’t realizing how serious his conditions were.”
Barrett stated Block doesn’t remember the events of the robbery.
“It hurts us quite a bit seeing a friend go through this,” Barrett said. “You hear about it all the time, especially the Vietnam vets and Iraq vets. Its one of those things, he seems so normal from serving there but you just don’t know until something like this happens. Hopefully he can get the help he needs.”
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.