Prosecutor promises jury intricate story behind Kmart theft

Judge Collins denies defense motion for mistrial

Posted: Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The prosecutor trying the man accused of stealing nearly $100,000 last year from Juneau's Kmart opened his case Tuesday by comparing the crime to the movie "Ocean's 11."

"Try not to be caught up and persuaded by the illusions," Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner told jurors, promising the evidence would show that Frank Brian Rowcroft "knocked off the Kmart store" where he had been head of security on March 31, 2002.

Attorney Louis Menendez, defending Rowcroft on the first-degree theft charge, didn't respond to Gardner's reference to the casino-theft conspiracy movie. He reserved his opening statements for the introduction of the defense case.

During cross-examination of the initial prosecution witnesses Tuesday, Menendez raised questions about police arresting only his client and he questioned the quality of the investigation.

Gardner told jurors they will hear the power outage corresponding to the Easter Sunday theft had been staged. After the lights came back on, $99,980 in cash, checks and credit card receipts were missing from the safe.

He said they will hear that Rowcroft was willing to pay someone $15,000 to shoot him, planning to frame his former girlfriend for the crime. Another witness will testify to leaving town for fear of what would happen to her if she testified, he added.

The allegation of these threats led to Rowcroft's arrest on two new felony charges Friday. As the trial was beginning Tuesday, Menendez motioned for a mistrial because the Empire ran a front-page story about the charges Tuesday morning. The jury was sent home after being sworn in Monday.

Out of the presence of jurors, Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins denied the motion, noting that she warned the jurors to stay away from any media coverage of the case and not to discuss it with anyone.

Collins said she read the story and found it "appears to be accurate as to what is alleged and what witnesses will say."

The first prosecution witness, U.S. Customs Inspector Paul Cano, explained how he found more than $30,000 in Rowcroft's car on May 3, 2002, near the Skagway Port of Entry.

Cano said he was relayed a tip from the Haines Port of Entry that there could be a substantial amount of money in the car and that the people inside were suspected of a major theft.

He said that after the car was sent back into the United State by Canadian officials who noted a license plate violation, he asked Rowcroft the standard question about carrying more than $10,000 in currency. Rowcroft eventually admitted to having $6,800, he added.

Cano said a search of the trunk revealed $23,530 in plastic zipper-locking bags hidden under the carpet. He also said Rowcroft was found to have $7,055 on his person.

Each of the cash seizures, placed in evidence bags after they were found, was shown to the jury.

Cano said Rowcroft pleaded guilty to a federal charge of failing to declare that he was bringing more than $10,000 into the U.S.

Skagway Police Sgt. Brent Moody testified he was at the scene, having been informed that a "robbery suspect" would be at the port.

"I later learned they were suspects in a theft," Moody said.

Moody said that during the search of his vehicle, Rowcroft was shaking and looking at the sky.

Under cross-examination, Menendez asked both witnesses about the woman in the car, Rowcroft's girlfriend. He noted that Cano originally referred to her as his accomplice.

Cano said that was a misstatement.

Menendez asked Moody about the woman's initial arrest. She was later released because of her "cooperation with authorities."

"I don't know why she was unarrested, but she was unarrested," Moody said.

He said she refused to answer questions without speaking to an attorney.

Collins told jurors that everyone has a constitutional right to counsel, and they should not infer Rowcroft's girlfriend had done anything wrong.

• Tony Carroll can be reached


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