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Man mistakenly released from prison found guilty of armed robbery

AMerrimack County jury finds James Rand guilty on all charges related to an April, 2012 armed robbery; Tuesday, January 29, 2013.

(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

AMerrimack County jury finds James Rand guilty on all charges related to an April, 2012 armed robbery; Tuesday, January 29, 2013. (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

It took jurors only an hour and a half to find the man wrongfully released from state prison last year guilty of armed robbery, suggesting the group didn’t put much weight behind his lawyer’s theory that the crime could have been committed by one of the man’s acquaintances.

James Rand, 45, was charged with committing three crimes after his release from state prison last March, and the convenience store robbery he was convicted of yesterday in Merrimack County Superior Court was the first to go to trial.

In his closing statement, prosecutor Wayne Coull told the jury that the facts in the case were so incriminating that “at some level, frankly, you may be wondering why we’re here.”

Rand was stopped by the police running away from the scene of the April 1 robbery, wearing clothing that matched the description given by the clerk and carrying money in a plastic bag bearing the Cumberland Farms logo.

A man matching Rand’s height and build was seen in surveillance footage shown to the jury. And a knife recovered not far from where Rand was arrested matched a knife found in his daughter’s home, an officer testified.

“The defendant, caught red-handed fleeing from the scene that night, has the bank deposit bag with the Cumberland Farms cash in it,” Coull said at the end of the brief trial, which barely stretched into two days. “He tells the police a complete bold-faced lie, that he’s Tony Brown, and he’s out for a jog.”

Rand’s lawyer, though, told the jury that Rand had a reason to be running that night and to lie to the police about his identity: he had just been mistakenly let out of the prison and knew he’d be taken back into custody if they found out who he really was.

Jeffrey Rabinowitz said the prosecution didn’t prove Rand committed the robbery, and while questioning several police officers he tried to show that the knife, found about 50 feet from where Rand was arrested, was in an area where the man hadn’t set foot. Three officers testified during the trial that they hadn’t seen Rand throw anything before being taken into custody.

Rand was arrested in front of his daughter’s apartment, near the intersection of Manchester Street and Garvins Falls Road.

Rabinowitz suggested that Rand’s daughter’s boyfriend could have committed the crime, considering the fact that the knife found by the police matched one inside the home.

“It’s not enough for you to believe that Mr. Rand had the Cumberland Farms money in his possession. Nor is it enough for you to believe that Mr. Rand helped or was in some way working with (his daughter’s boyfriend). The state must prove that it was in fact Mr. Rand, not anyone else, who actually robbed Cumberland Farms.” Rabinowitz said.

Rabinowitz suggested the state could have tested the knife for fingerprints. And he questioned why the jury was shown surveillance footage from only one of the cameras outside of the convenience store.

“There’s a video camera . . . right below the entrance to Cumberland Farms. We’ve never seen a video. What would that have shown us? We’ll never know,” he said.

Coull called those questions distractions from the fact that “the defendant is, quite clearly, guilty.” And he characterized Rabinowitz’s theory as an attempt to develop a defense in a case where there wasn’t one.

“There is nothing secret going on here. The defense would like to suggest ‘What if? What if?’ ” he said. “Of course they’re going to suggest something. Attorney Rabinowitz is doing his best to defend Mr. Rand. And that’s his obligation. You’re never going to hear a closing that says something like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, my client was caught running away from the scene of the robbery with the money. Wow, what a case.’ ”

The woman Rand robbed, 22-year-old Julia Jones, took the stand Monday and during a tearful testimony told the jury how he had held a knife to her side, demanded she empty the cash register and ordered her to lie on the ground while he fled. Jones, who has said she has no doubt Rand is the man who robbed her, has filed a lawsuit against the state due to his release from prison.

In questioning Jones, Rabinowitz mentioned that lawsuit to question why she might be compelled to identify Rand as her attacker. But in doing so Rabinowitz alerted the jury to Rand’s criminal history, information typically not allowed at trial because it can sway a jury to convict someone based on the fact that they’ve broken the law before.

Judge Kathleen McGuire, who presided over the trial, discussed the risk with Rabinowitz, but the lawyer decided he wanted the jury to know that part of the story.

Rand was found guilty yesterday of the armed robbery but also of resisting arrest, attempted theft by unauthorized taking, false swearing and making a false report to law enforcement. The police said Rand ran from officers trying to apprehend him, then maintained that his name was Tony Brown even after a detective told him that he knew that wasn’t true.

Before he left the Cumberland Farms, Rand asked Jones to give him her car keys, which were found by the police in the vehicle’s ignition. The crime constituted an attempted theft, according to Coull, who said Rand had planned to steal the car but abandoned the idea and decided to run on foot instead.

Rand will be sentenced within the next 60 days. He’s been convicted of two felonies, each carrying 7½ to 14 years in prison, and three misdemeanors, each carrying up to a year in the county jail.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or or on Twitter @tricia_nadolny.)

Correction: This story has been updated to correct contradicting information on when Rand was released from the state prison.

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