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Posted Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Judge places armed robber Haitian man under state prison secured locks for 10-12 years 

SALEM - A Lynn man was sentenced to 10-12 years in state prison Monday for robbing a pawnshop at gunpoint, stealing $100,000 in jewelry and cash, and terrorizing two clerks for a half hour, convincing them they were about to die.

Jeffrey Jean-Baptiste, 25, pleaded guilty in Superior Court to two counts of kidnapping, two counts of armed robbery and illegal possession of a handgun. The crimes translated, respectively, to concurrent jail terms of 10 years, 10-12 years, and 2.5-5 years.

Judge Howard J. Whitehead said such cases, in which the crime is serious but nobody was killed, make it difficult to determine an appropriate prison sentence.

Essex County Assistant District Attorney James Gubitose requested a lengthier term, but Whitehead said a dozen years means Jean-Baptiste will be 35 years old before he is free. In that time, two American presidencies will have elapsed, the defendant's two children will become teenagers, and the world will be a different place, the judge said.

Gubitose described the defendant as "an animal" who wildly waved a handgun and leapt on the display case inside the Market Square Exchange at 58 Market Square in Lynn, during the May 3, 2006 robbery. Jean-Baptiste pointed the gun at the two victims, ordering them to lay down on the floor in a back room. He also pulled out the phone wires and, after threatening the men for about 30 minutes, demanded their drivers licenses, warning he would return and murder them if they contacted police.

After Jean-Baptiste left the store, his backpack stuffed with loot, the two traumatized clerks remained on the floor for another 10 minutes. The entire crime was captured on the pawnshop surveillance camera. The suspect was arrested about two months later, the handgun still in his backpack. Investigators matched his image to the videotape, and his fingerprints were on the pawnshop display counter as well as on a drink container tossed into the store trash barrel.

Defense lawyer Carmine LePore asked the judge for leniency. "This young man never had a chance," he said, offering a summary of Jean-Baptiste's boyhood in Haiti. The attorney said Jean-Baptiste's mother died when he was very young, leaving him alone with a physically abusive father. When school officials noticed the boy's condition, the father was brought before law enforcement authorities for answers, but that only turned the close-knit community against the boy, making him an outcast, LePore said.

The pawnshop's former owner told the court Monday he has been forced to return to work at the business because the relative who was running it remains mentally traumatized by the robbery. The man said he has purchased a German shepherd attack dog that stays in the pawnshop with him.

In a written statement submitted to the court, one victim said he suffers from frequent flashbacks during which he can hear the gunman barking orders and threatening him. The victim added that the circumstances have given him a new appreciation for life because he was sure the robber was about to shoot him dead. Jean-Baptiste apologized for his actions in a letter to the court and also during a witness-stand statement. "I put a lot on you guys," he told the victims. "I'm sorry."

Reprinted from The Lynn Items of Tuesday, February 12, 2008.

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