Defense challenges robbery witnesses

Attorney questions owner's, employee's memory of the crime

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008

The defense continued punching holes into the prosecution's case during the second full day of Duwaine Price's robbery trial by impeaching testimony placing Price at one crime scene and allegations he threatened to shoot people at the other.

Price, a 39-year-old woodcarver, is accused of attempting to rob the Grants Plaza Heritage Coffee stand on the evening of Oct. 1, 2007, and then 17 minutes later attempting to rob Capital Brew downtown. Charges against Price are two counts of robbery, one of theft and two of assault.

Public defender Eric Hedland said Price faces decades in prison if convicted on all counts as charged.

Assistant District Attorney Jack Schmidt made arguments of guilt based largely upon a three-hour police investigation, concluding that Price threatened to shoot Capital Brew's owner, Nick House, and two employees if they didn't give him money. Schmidt connected Price to the Heritage robbery through a witness who tentatively identified Price in a photo lineup.

Schmidt presented House and Capital Brew barista Ariana McDonough to the jury of 10 women and three men Tuesday. Both testified Price had threatened to shoot them when he asked for money. During cross-examination, Hedland carefully asked if each was sure that's what happened.

Punishment increases if someone is convicted of using a gun or threatening to use a gun during a robbery. Secondly, if true, the threat connects the two robberies because the Heritage victim said the suspect threatened to shoot her.

Juneau police officer Brian Dallas interviewed both House and McDonough at Capital Brew. In court, Dallas said that either House or McDonough told him Price had threatened to use a gun. Dallas said he couldn't remember who or when.

The only gun found at the scene belonged to House.

On Wednesday, Hedland played copies of Dallas' field recordings and a 911 call made by another employee for the jury. Nowhere in the recordings did anyone say the suspect threatened to shoot anyone.

"It shows what the witnesses said ain't in fact what happened," Hedland said.

The jury heard an interview taped within minutes of Dallas' arrival in which House, when asked what happened, told police that the suspect entered his small coffee shop with his "hand in his pocket" and said, "Give me all of your money."

The jury then heard a recording of McDonough saying the suspect said, "I want all your money. Give me all your money."

Neither mentioned a threat to shoot. Dallas' police report from that night did not include mention of threats to shoot either.

"Just because it's not recorded doesn't mean it didn't happen," Dallas said.

Hedland told the jury that the first mention of any threat to shoot at Capital Brew was in Dallas' supplemental police report written sometime later, when he summarized House's recorded statement to include a threat to shoot.

Dallas insisted someone told him that Price threatened to shoot.

During jury selection on Monday, Schmidt dismissed a local lawyer after he admitted to a belief that police officers can go "too far" when seeking a conviction. They're trained to get a conviction, he said.

Earlier in the morning, Heritage Coffee barista Stephanie Dennis testified that on Oct. 1 she could not pick the man who asked her for money from a police photo lineup.

"He said if I didn't give him money he'd shoot me," she said.

Last January, in a room alone with District Attorney Doug Gardner and Juneau Police Sgt. Tom Bates, Dennis pointed to photo No. 3, Hedland said.

Nothing was recorded.

On Tuesday, Bates said Dennis was not coached or directed in any way to pick Price. Bates said his conversation with Dennis was casual and that he didn't hear Gardner's conversation with Dennis.

Dennis told the jury that three months after the robbery she was able to pick "the person who most looked like the person" who attempted to rob her.

"I wasn't sure," Dennis said

In court, she identified Price as the attempted robber.

After excusing the jury for the day, Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg told attorneys from both sides, "I can't rule out that a juror could reject portions of Dennis' testimony."

The trial continues today with closing arguments and instructions for jury deliberation.

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