Jurors in the murder trial of three Ogdensburg men accused of killing an elderly man during an alleged drug-related robbery heard starkly contrasting views from prosecutors and defense attorneys during opening statements in St. Lawrence County Court Friday.
While prosecutors claimed 32 year old Anthony Lalonde, 26 year old Michael Thorpe and 30 year old Michael Durand all had a part in the death and robbery of 83 year old Ralph "Gene" Lawton, they also admitted there is no evidence the defendants intentionally planned to kill Lawton.
Chief District Attorney Amanda Nissen told the 9 man, 3 woman jury that one of the reasons Lawton was targeted for the crime was because "he was known to sell pills."
"They planned to rob him. They came armed with a wooden ax handle but the robbery didn't go quite according to their plan," she said.
Prosecutors say that's when a scuffle broke out and Lawton was shoved to the ground and his roommate was pushed on top of him.
An autopsy found Lawton died from blunt force trauma to the chest.
But defense attorneys questioned whether the three men could be linked to the crime scene.
Lalonde's lawyer, Lloyd Grandy, questioned whether his client could be placed in Lawton's apartment at the time of the November 18, 2010 crime.
"I am confident," said Grandy, "you will not be able without a reasonable doubt say my client was in that building that night."
Attorney William Galvin told the court the charges against Michael Thorpe were "false accusations" and that Thorpe and an alibi witness would testify he was at home eating dinner at the time the crime was committed.
Meanwhile, Durand's lawyer, Gary Miles, told jurors there was no direct evidence linking the Ogdensburg man to either the robbery or Lawton's death.
"The police certainly arrested three people, but they may not be the right ones," said Miles.
Lawton's 66 year old roommatetook the witness stand after opening statements.
Guy Bartlett testified that Lawton was selling prescription drugs from the Ford Street apartment the two men shared.
Bartlett also admitted selling drugs to individuals when Lawton wasn't there.
Bartlett told the court he was in the apartment with Lawton when three individuals wearing masks and carrying a wooden club knocked on the door before entering the residence where a struggle broke out.
Bartlett testified he had "no idea" who they were and didn't recall initially telling police investigators he thought one of the suspects was wearing glasses.
Bartlett also told the court he fell on Lawton twice during a scuffle.
The first time, he said, he landed on Lawton's legs.
Two individuals picked him up and tossed him back down where he landed on Lawton's stomach.
Lawton later died of blunt force trauma to the chest.
Testimony will continue on Monday.