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Ogdensburg murder trial witnesses: “job” was planned

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CANTON — The details differed, but two witnesses testified Monday in St. Lawrence County Court to being aware of plans for a “job” the night an 83-year-old Ogdensburg man died after three masked men allegedly entered his Ford Street apartment to steal cash and prescription pills.

Ogdensburg residents Anthony W. Lalonde, Michael S. Thorpe and Michael D. Durand are facing charges of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in connection with the Nov. 18, 2010, death of Ralph E. “Gene” Lawton.

Brandi Gardner testified that her then-husband, Victor Gardner, was part of discussions for “planning a job” earlier that day with several other people, including Mr. Lalonde, during a social gathering. Ms. Gardner said that she was not part of the discussions, as she was in another room, and that she understood only that the matter was “something not legal.” She said that her husband asked her if he could participate and that she rejected the idea.

Ogdensburg resident Andrew C. Wells, 26, also spoke of being part of the discussion about a plan that involved “two Mikes and Tony,” and he said Ms. Gardner was in the room at the time. Mr. Wells said he was only part of talks and did not participate in any later activities. He said he brought a wooden sledgehammer handle to the gathering but never saw it again.

In her opening statements Friday, Assistant District Attorney Amanda N. Nissen said of the masked men that evidence will prove the defendants were the assailants, one of whom allegedly brandished a wooden stick with a sharp wire attached.

Mr. Lalonde, then 31, of 1106 Ford St.; Mr. Thorpe, then 25, of 904 Elizabeth St.; and Mr. Durand, then 29, of 513 Elizabeth St., are accused of causing severe injuries to Mr. Lawton that led to his death; an autopsy showed he received numerous blows to the chest.

Mr. Lawton’s roommate, Guy C. Bartlett, then 64, has testified that the intruders never hit Mr. Lawton. Mr. Bartlett maintains the intruders picked him up and threw him onto the older, smaller man.

The men allegedly fled with more than $1,000 and prescription drugs.

Mr. Wells initially testified that he did not know whose apartment was to be robbed. Under questioning by Mr. Durand’s attorney, Gary W. Miles, he acknowledged that he told police last year that “Victor told me they were planning on robbing old man Gene.”

Tara A. Moncrief, 22, Ogdensburg, testified that she had previously bought crack cocaine and pills from Mr. Lawton and was on her way to his apartment to buy an OxyContin painkiller pill from him the night he died, and a female friend came with her. She said she was high on muscle relaxants as she headed up the stairs, when three men in ski masks ran out of the apartment and down the stairs.

Ms. Moncrief said that inside she saw Mr. Bartlett on the floor with Mr. Lawton, whom she said she tried to resuscitate before police and emergency crews arrived.

Ms. Moncrief admitted under defense questioning to helping to steal a sweatshirt filled with drugs from the apartment about two months previously, as Mr. Lawton slept.

Another witness scheduled to testify Monday, Brandee Arquette, was arrested under warrant at about 4 p.m. after she didn’t appear and allegedly tried to evade DA’s office officials.

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