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Trial begins for mistakenly released inmate accused of robbery

  • Former Cumberland Farms assistant manager Julia Jones weeps while testifying at the Merrimack County Superior Court about being robbed in April 2012 by a man with a knife she identified as James Rand; Monday, January 28, 2013.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Former Cumberland Farms assistant manager Julia Jones weeps while testifying at the Merrimack County Superior Court about being robbed in April 2012 by a man with a knife she identified as James Rand; Monday, January 28, 2013.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • James Rand listens to testimony by the officer that arrested him during Rand's trial on charges related to an April, 2012 armed robbery of a Cumberland Farms gas station at the Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, January 28, 2013. Rand was mistakenly released from the state prison in Concord the day before.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    James Rand listens to testimony by the officer that arrested him during Rand's trial on charges related to an April, 2012 armed robbery of a Cumberland Farms gas station at the Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, January 28, 2013. Rand was mistakenly released from the state prison in Concord the day before.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Former Cumberland Farms assistant manager Julia Jones weeps while testifying at the Merrimack County Superior Court about being robbed in April 2012 by a man with a knife she identified as James Rand; Monday, January 28, 2013.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • James Rand listens to testimony by the officer that arrested him during Rand's trial on charges related to an April, 2012 armed robbery of a Cumberland Farms gas station at the Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, January 28, 2013. Rand was mistakenly released from the state prison in Concord the day before.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

As the man held a knife to her side and demanded she empty the register, Julia Jones remembers telling herself to recognize his height and weight, the color of his skin and his clothing. Yesterday in court, Jones looked across the room and said James Rand, the man on trial, was without question her assailant.

Rand’s lawyer, though, offered another reason for Jones to so confidently identify Rand as the man who robbed her last summer at the Manchester Street Cumberland Farms. He told the jury that the 22-year-old woman is currently suing the state because Rand was wrongfully released from prison shortly before the attack.

“That lawsuit is for money damages, right?” Jeffrey Rabinowitz asked Jones.

In raising the question, Rabinowitz let the jury in on something rarely presented at trial: a defendant’s criminal history. The evidence is often excluded in court so a jury isn’t compelled to convict someone because they’ve broken the law before.

Because Rabinowitz introduced it to question Jones’s motive, the evidence became fair game during yesterday’s trial at Merrimack County Superior Court.

“The night you were robbed James Rand should have been sitting behind bars?” prosecutor Wayne Coull asked Jones, who confirmed his questions through tears. “And he was let out by mistake? He should have been at the New Hampshire state prison?”

The state has acknowledged 45-year-old Rand was accidentally released from the prison March 30, due to a mistake by a parole board employee. He’s been charged with committing a string of crimes in the two days before being taken back into custody. The Cumberland Farms robbery, which took place a few minutes before midnight April 1, is the first to go to trial.

Coull, in his opening statement yesterday, called the case undeniably clear cut, saying Rand is nearly the exact height and weight of the man Jones described to 911. When an officer spotted Rand running down Manchester Street shortly after the robbery, he was wearing a jean jacket and a black hooded sweatshirt that also matched the description of the woman’s attacker, Coull said.

And in his pockets was about $320 comprised of crumpled cash, a roll of pennies and seven $20 bills in a plastic bag with Cumberland Farms printed across the front, officers testified yesterday.

“James Rand was caught red-handed running from the scene of the armed robbery he had just committed,” Coull said.

In his opening statement, Rabinowitz told the jury “things are not always as clear as they seem,” but he didn’t offer an alternative version of events. He asked the jurors to keep an open mind.

Jones testified yesterday that she was coming out of the bathroom when her attacker entered the store, held out a knife and demanded cash. On surveillance footage shown in court, Jones can be seen stepping back against cases of water stacked behind her, then walking to the counter with the man at her side.

“Tell us what’s happening,” Coull said as he paused the video and looked to Jones.

“He’s asking me to take the money out of the drawer,” Jones said before Coull pressed play again.

On the video, Jones holds her hands out to her side, her palms open. After a few moments, she lowers herself onto the floor.

“He asked me to do that so I couldn’t follow him,” Jones said.

Coull asked what she was thinking in that moment, as the assailant walked out of the store and she waited, her body pressed against the floor, to get up.

“I’m thinking that I could have died for a job,” she said. “I’m thinking that, you know, I’m still safe and that’s good. And that I was scared.”

Watching in the courtroom, Rand sat slumped in his chair, his head leaning to the side.

Rand was taken into custody after an officer saw him darting across Garvins Falls Road shortly after midnight, that officer testified yesterday. About 50 feet away, the police found a knife, according to Concord police Sgt. Timothy King.

King said Rand was apprehended in front of his daughter’s apartment, which is just behind the Dunkin’ Donuts at the corner of Manchester Street and Garvins Falls Road. But at the time the officer didn’t know Rand was related to the woman, Tatianna Rand, because he had told the police his name was Tony Brown. King testified that once the police suspected the man was actually Rand, they received a warrant to search his daughter’s home.

There, officers found another knife matching the one found outside the apartment, King testified.

When questioning the officers yesterday, Rabinowitz asked each if they had seen Rand drop or throw anything before being arrested. The officers said they hadn’t.

Rand continued to use the fake name after being taken to the police department, according to King. But King testified that he suspected the man was really Rand, having been told about the inmate who was mistakenly released a few days before.

“At one point in the interview I actually stopped and I asked him to be quiet, listen very carefully,” King said. “At that point I confronted him, telling him I know who he is and how I know who he is. At that point he told me . . . that he didn’t want to upset me but that he was Tony Brown.”

The trial is scheduled to reconvene this morning. Coull rested his case yesterday, and Rabinowitz said he planned to call one final witness, the manager at the Cumberland Farms. Judge Kathleen McGuire, who is presiding over the trial, told the jury she expected them to begin deliberating this afternoon.

Rand is charged with attempted theft by unauthorized taking, robbery, false swearing, making a false report to law enforcement and resisting arrest. Rand has also been accused of robbing a woman at Walmart after being let out of the state prison, and that case is scheduled for trial in March.

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

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