Price acquitted of one coffee shop robbery

Suspect found guilty of first-degree robbery at Capital Brew

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2008

Prosecutor Jack Schmidt closed his case Thursday by telling the jury to convict Duwaine Price of two counts of robbery in the first degree along with associated assault and theft charges.

The state wants to hold Price accountable for his actions, he said.

"If not for robbery in the first degree, don't convict him of anything. Let him go," Schmidt said.

He got half his wish as a jury of 10 women and two men convicted Price, a 39-year-old Juneau woodcarver, of first-degree robbery, assault and theft for robbing Capital Brew last October at closing time.

Schmidt spent the better part of the week trying to convince the jury that Price tried to rob two coffee shops that night and in doing so threatened to shoot victims at both locations. Price was charged with two counts of robbery, two counts of assault and one count of theft.

"The defendant was caught red-handed," Schmidt told the jury during closing arguments. Price walked into Capital Brew on Willoughby Avenue at closing time and said, "I want all your money or I'll shoot you." Two witnesses testified to that, he said.

Schmidt, an assistant district attorney, told the jury that 17 minutes before robbing Capital Brew he tried to rob the Heritage Coffee stand in Grants Plaza, five miles away. There, the suspect was reported to say, "Give me money or I'll shoot."

Schmidt was unable to surmount the doubt in jurors' minds after hearing the Heritage victim, Stephanie Dennis, could not identify Price as the suspected robber from a police photo lineup the day of the robbery.

Dennis told the jury she had a good look at Price that night. Price is over 6 feet tall and weighs more than 300 pounds. Dennis identified Price three months later in a "nonstressful situation," Schmidt said.

Public defender Eric Hedland countered by asking the jury to challenge their assumptions.

District Attorney Doug Gardner and Juneau Police Sgt. Tom Bates were in a room alone with Dennis when she picked Price out of a photo lineup, Hedland said.

Characterizing the truth as he saw it, Hedland said, "A big scary guy walks into Capital Brew. Everything else is up for debate."

Over the preceding days, Hedland attacked the state's case connecting the two robberies based largely on Price's alleged threat to shoot people at both locations. Hedland continually pointed out Dennis' conflicting identification of Price three months after the crime.

Juneau police field recordings made the night of the alleged robbery at Capital Brew did not include the victim's claims that Price threatened to shoot as he asked for money.

Neither did a 911 call placed by a Capital Brew employee while the store owner, Nick House, beat Price with a large metal flashlight as three men held him to the floor. The Juneau police report from that night did not contain the threat to shoot either.

Hedland stopped short of directly telling the jury that Juneau police officer Brian Dallas led Capital Brew victims to the idea that Price verbally threatened to shoot them over money to connect the two crimes.

"It's all bootstrapped," he said.

Previously, Hedland established the first chronological appearance of Price's alleged threat turned up in a supplemental report written sometime after the short investigation was complete.

"That language was adopted," Hedland said. "Dallas knew the language."

Back in front of the jury, Schmidt said there was no "global conspiracy" against Price.

The jury deliberated for a little more than three hours. Upon hearing the guilty verdict, Price lowered his head and his eyes began to water.

Following the jury's verdict, Hedland moved to acquit on all charges saying the jury was biased by Schmidt's arguments trying to connect Price to a crime that the jury decided he did not commit. The state used the Heritage crime to establish intent.

Continuing his defense, Hedland is expected to file for a new trial based on the same reasoning. Without the Heritage evidence presented in court, there is a "strong likelihood" of a different verdict with the Capital Brew case, he said.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg said Hedland had five days to file for a new trial. There will be no acquittal today, he said.

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