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Judge rejects sentence pitch

A Douglas County judge sent attorneys back to the drawing board after a joint sentencing recommendation came forward recommending a lighter sentence than recommended by the state's Department of Justice.

A Douglas County judge sent attorneys back to the drawing board after a joint sentencing recommendation came forward recommending a lighter sentence than recommended by the state's Department of Justice.

Circuit Court Judge Kelly Thimm rejected the joint recommendation and allowed the defendant to withdraw a guilty plea in connection with the Oct. 22 robbery of the Spur store at 1706 Tower Ave.

"I can just tell the parties that my understanding before I came on the bench was it was going to be an argued sentence, and I didn't know what the arguments were going to be," Thimm said, according to a transcript of the March 25 hearing released Wednesday. "Then I came out on the bench and there's a joint recommendation for six months in jail, and the PSI [presentence investigation] is recommending two to three years prison, followed by two to three years extended supervision."

Since 2005, Dennis James Houle Jr., 27, has been convicted of a variety of charges including battery, criminal damage to property, fishing without a license and multiple counts of disorderly conduct. Even as he faced possible sentencing on the robbery charge March 25, six new felony counts in connection with the sale of marijuana and cocaine to a confidential informant working with the Superior Police Department had been filed about a week earlier.

The state Probation and Parole Office notified the court of the new charges filed March 17 stemming from controlled drug buys in February and March. The state's presentence investigation was filed in the Douglas County Clerk of Courts Office the same day the new charges were filed.

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Houle entered a plea on the robbery charge in January.

The Superior man was arrested in connection with the robbery and charged after the store clerk positively identified him in a photo lineup.

According to the criminal complaint:

The store clerk was outside when Houle approached the store, opened the door for him and followed him inside. When the clerk asked what he could get for Houle, the suspect demanded all the money. While demanding the money, the suspect had one of his hands inside the front pocket of his jacket; the pocket was pushed forward as if there were a handgun inside. The clerk couldn't tell for sure if there was a gun, but thought the suspect was implying that it was.

After determining the suspect was serious about the demand, the clerk turned over the till and the suspect fled the store.

Houle was arrested after a friend who had been waiting in a vehicle behind the store later drove him to the law enforcement center. The friend told police he wasn't aware of the robbery.

For the crime, District Attorney Dan Blank and Chief Public Defender J. Patrick O'Neill reached an agreement Houle should be sentenced to six years prison - three years each incarceration and extended supervision - but the prison sentence should be stayed for five years probation and six months in the county jail.

District Attorney Dan Blank opposed allowing the plea to be withdrawn, but Thimm said in fairness to Houle, who could have anticipated he would be sentenced according to the attorneys' recommendation, the judge would allow the withdrawal.

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"It changes the playing field in my mind," Thimm said. "... I didn't want to blindside Mr. Houle."

The judge scheduled a status conference for May 14 in connection with the robbery charge, two days after he's scheduled to appear in court on the drug charges.

Related Topics: CRIMEDOUGLAS COUNTYSUPERIOR
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