It’s been more than a year since a man walked into the Travelodge Hotel in the Mendenhall Valley, brandished what appeared to be a gun at a terrified hotel guest and attacked the front desk clerk to steal an estimated $250-$400 from the till.
What was not known at the time was that the alleged gunman had an accomplice.
A Juneau grand jury recently indicted a 24-year-old Juneau man, Eric Ashenfelter, on one count of first-degree robbery and two counts of fourth-degree assault — one for placing someone in fear of injury and the other for “recklessly causing” physical injury. The grand jury also indicted a second man, the alleged accomplice, Lee Nelson, 25, for aiding and abetting the robbery.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Paige told Judge Philip Pallenberg that Ashenfelter and Nelson staged the robbery and Nelson was an employee at the hotel, according to court proceeding notes on March 8.
“They arranged it together,” Paige said in court, adding that Ashenfelter asked Nelson to “play the victim” in exchange for some money.
Paige declined to comment further, but eyewitness accounts reported at the time of the robbery indicated that the robber punched an unidentified man before hitting the front desk clerk.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Ashenfelter, he entered the Travelodge Hotel on Dec. 1. 2015, brandishing what appeared to be a gun and holding it to a hotel guest’s face as she was checking in. Ashenfelter then went behind the front desk, hitting the front desk clerk multiple times, causing his head to bleed.
The hotel guest told the Empire at the time of the robbery that she placed her money and phone on the counter, but the suspect didn’t take it.
She said she managed to escape the scene to call for help after another guest waiting for a bus tried to intervene. The robber punched the man, then assaulted the hotel attendant behind the counter.
It is not clear if Nelson was the man who reportedly was punched by Ashenfelter. Calls for comment this week to the Travelodge and its parent company, Wyndham Hotel Group, were not returned. Ashenfelter was charged with assault against the female guest and the desk clerk, but not with a third count of assault against the other man.
Ashenfelter was arraigned on March 11 and pleaded not guilty; his bail was set at $5,000. He appeared in Juneau Superior Court on March 13; his request for lowered bail was denied after Paige cited the seriousness of the case and the strength of the evidence, which included video. The length of time between the robbery and the issued criminal complaint was alleged to be due to a backlog in processing DNA evidence, according to court records.
Ashenfelter is set to return to court on Monday regarding retaining an attorney on a permanent basis.
Nelson was arraigned on March 9 and pleaded not guilty; his bail was set at $1,000. A trial date for both men has been set for May 29.
• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.