Rowcroft is guilty

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2003

Frank Brian Rowcroft showed no emotion Friday as 12 jurors took turns saying they found him guilty of last year's Easter morning $100,000 theft from the Kmart safe.

The first-degree theft charge could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins scheduled the sentencing hearing for Jan. 6.

Defense attorney Louis Menendez declined comment on the possibility of appeal.

"I will continue to be his attorney," he said.

Rowcroft, 29, also may soon begin serving a federal sentence of about six months for failing to report he had more than $10,000 while trying to re-enter the United States on the day of his arrest for the Kmart crime, Menendez said.

During the two-week state trial for theft, a grand jury indicted Rowcroft on two charges carrying the same potential penalties as the Kmart theft. The charges allege Rowcroft threatened a witness who left Alaska with her fiancé, who also was a witness, the week before the trial.

After they were detained in Bellingham, Wash., they returned to Juneau to testify that Rowcroft had the key to the room with the safe during critical hours on the morning of the theft.

Menendez and Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner commended the jury for their attention to the case. Jurors deliberated for about eight hours. Menendez said that although he disagreed with the result, "there is no ill feeling with the jury's verdict."

Gardner said later Friday that the theft wasn't a victimless crime, although Kmart's presence in Juneau is now no more than an empty store. He said he got the feeling form people questioned for the jury that they agreed with him that the victim was the community.

He said it was a complicated case to put together and praised Juneau police for solving it.

"This was a very sophisticated crime," Gardner said.

Rowcroft was the loss-prevention supervisor at Kmart on March 31, 2002, the morning the theft was discovered after a power interruption. The room with the safe had two cameras. Both failed to record the money being removed. The store director testified that about $68,000 in cash was stolen, in addition to checks and credit receipts.

Both sides agreed the outage was staged. Both sides agreed the tapes were altered.

Rowcroft was arrested on May 3, 2002, after U.S. Customs agents near Skagway found he was carrying about $30,000 in cash, including more than $23,000 in plastic bags under the carpet in his car's trunk.

A witness from the Alaska State Crime Lab called by Menendez testified that she could not match any fingerprints from the money to Rowcroft, the women who handled the cash for Kmart, or the employees of the bank that supplied cash to the store.

Fingerprint examiner Kerrie Cathcart said she could find only 22 fingerprints on the 1,696 pieces of currency that she examined.

Prosecution witnesses from Key Bank and the Kmart cash cage testified how Kmart money was put together and organized. New bills were alternated in the stacks with older bills so the money wouldn't stick together.

Collins had instructed jurors they could find Rowcroft guilty of theft if they determined he took the money from the Kmart safe or if they determined he had possessed the Kmart money without caring that it was stolen.

Menendez argued Thursday that the money in Rowcroft's car was not proven to be Kmart money. He noted that one prosecution witness had testified to seeing Rowcroft with $50,000 before the theft.

He also pointed out that no evidence was introduced to show Rowcroft had access to the combination for the safe. No one testified that his client was in the store at the time of the theft, he added.

After Menendez polled the jury, Assistant District Attorney Richard Svobodny asked Collins to set Rowcroft's bail at $50,000. Bail had been $10,000 before the theft trial.

Svobodny is prosecuting Rowcroft on the latest indictments.

Menendez said the idea that his client would pose a threat to the community was ridiculous. The indictments are not evidence, he added. He quoted a Juneau lawyer who said authorities could "get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich."

He accused Svobodny of playing to media representatives in the courtroom.

In the end, Collins continued the $10,000 bail but ordered that Rowcroft be in the care of at least one of his parents at all times.

During the discussion, she noted that she had told the attorneys five times that she believes "Mr. Rowcroft poses a significant risk to himself," judging from trial testimony that pointed to at least one suicide attempt.

On his way out of the courthouse with his father, Rowcroft had no comment. His father, Michael Rowcroft, who sat through much of the trial, said he would say "what any father would say. He wants safety and justice for his son."

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