Jury hears from victims of Stop & Shop robberies

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A longtime employee of the Groton Stop & Shop and the manager of the People's United Bank branch inside the Route 12 grocery store, testified Thursday as the robbery trial of John Lamotte began in Superior Court.

Lamotte, 53, of Bradford, R.I., a stone mason and convicted bank robber, is accused of robbing the customer service desk at the store of $2,468 on Dec. 6, 2016, and robbing the bank of $1,840 on Sept. 18, 2017.

A jury of six regular members and two alternates is expected to listen to four or five days of testimony about the incidents in the courtroom of Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed.

On day one, prosecutor Lawrence J. Tytla introduced photographs of the store's interior and exterior and asked the robbery victims to narrate surveillance video.

Lori Greene, a Stop & Shop employee for 21 years, testified she was working the customer service desk by herself when a man came in about 10:30 a.m. wearing dark sunglasses and a black hooded jacket. He handed her a note that said, "You are being robbed. I have a gun. I'm not alone. Do not press any alarms." Greene said she pressed the alarm anyway, then took money from the cash register and put it, and the note, in a white plastic bag. She said she gave the note to the robber and he left.

Cameras at each end of the courtesy desk captured video of the incident, but appeared to be focused more on the employee side of the counter than the customer side.

While on the witness stand, Greene did not appear to look toward Lamotte at the defense table, and was not asked by the prosecutor whether she could identify him as the man who robbed her. Under cross-examination by defense attorney Dawn Bradinini, Greene testified that she hadn't seen a gun.

Mary Howland of Mystic, a longtime customer, testified that she noticed a red pickup truck that was parked "in a very inconvenient and dangerous place" as she pulled off Route 184 and drove up the access road to the grocery store that morning. Inside the store, she noticed some of the employees seemed "frantic," and learned about the robbery. She said she drove home and called Groton Town police to say that she thought she saw the "getaway car." She provided a detailed description of the truck, including a long "crease" it had on the driver's side at about the height of a guardrail and a New York Yankees lanyard hanging from the rear-view mirror.

Thomas Metcalf of North Stonington, a paving and landscaping contractor who is loosely related to Lamotte — "John's wife is my sister's husband's niece," he said — testified that about that time, Lamotte worked for him at a job on Spring Valley Road. Shown pictures of a red pickup truck that Tytla said would be the topic of more detailed testimony from another witness, Metcalf said it looked like the "rough and rusty" truck Lamotte drove at the time.  

Metcalf was jovial while on the witness stand, pointing to Lamotte several times after answering questions and saying, "Right, John?" As he departed the courtroom, he told Lamotte, "Good seeing you John, buddy."

Paul Lapides, a longtime manager for People's United Bank, testified that the branch had just opened when a man appeared wearing dark wraparound sunglasses and a cap and smelling of alcohol. Lapides said he typically would ask such a person to remove their sunglasses, and that he called the man over to his station. He said the man passed him an index card-sized note demanding small bills and saying somebody else was watching. The note said something to the effect of, "We'll blow your head off," Lapides testified.

Lapides said he acted according to bank protocol, which is to "Follow the note and get the person out of there." He opened the cash drawer and put a mix of bills into a Stop & Shop bag the robber handed him and gave back the note at the man's request. He said that after the man left, he calmly notified other staff what had happened and they followed protocol. The lead teller hit a silent alarm to notify police and Lapides said he went into the office to fill out a form with the details of the incident.

From the witness stand, he narrated video of the incident taken from several angles. As of late afternoon, he had not been asked whether the man who robbed him was in the courtroom.

k.florin@theday.com

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