Man denies robbing liquor store

April 20, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

Judging from a look at the court file for Dennis Edwin O'Donnell Jr., it appears as if county prosecutors have an open-and-shut case against him for the armed robbery of an Elkridge liquor store last summer.

The owner of the shop identified Mr. O'Donnell in a photo lineup. The Arbutus resident has a lengthy criminal record, including two burglary arrests, and he never provided police with much of an alibi.

Mr. O'Donnell, 34, is to go on trial in Howard Circuit Court today on charges of armed robbery, robbery, theft, assault and weapons violations for the June 9 robbery at Elkridge Liquors. He could be sentenced to a maximum of 74 years in prison.

But Mr. O'Donnell has only one thing to say in response to the allegations: He's innocent. He even paid for a polygraph test that his attorney said shows Mr. O'Donnell did not commit the robbery.

"Whoever really did this is likely to be still out there," said Preston Pairo III, an Ellicott City lawyer for Mr. O'Donnell.

Mr. Pairo insists that police and prosecutors have ignored the results of Mr. O'Donnell's lie-detector test and won't give him another test to determine whether the case should be pursued. Results of such tests can't be introduced as evidence at trials.

Mr. O'Donnell even asked police to give him a polygraph test after his arrest, according to a police report, but the test was never given.

County police and prosecutors would not comment on the O'Donnell case, saying they cannot discuss a pending case.

Sgt. Steven Keller, a spokesman for the police department, said investigators rarely give polygraph tests to suspects when they already have enough evidence for an arrest.

"It's not the police department's responsibility to provide a defense," Sergeant Keller said.

Detectives usually ask suspects to take polygraph tests when they doubt a suspect's story and don't have evidence, fingerprints or witness identifications to prove otherwise, Sergeant Keller said.

But Mr. Pairo questioned the evidence police and prosecutors have against Mr. O'Donnell.

Mr. Pairo noted that police never found the gun used by the suspect in the robbery. Investigators also never found the clothing or sunglasses the robber is said to have worn when they conducted a search of Mr. O'Donnell's home.

In the robbery, a man came in and out of Elkridge Liquors shop in the 5800 block of Washington Blvd. three times without buying ** anything between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on June 9, a police report says.

On the fourth visit, the man got beer and approached the shop's owner, the report says. He then pulled a revolver on the owner and told him to give him all his money. The businessman handed over about $150 and the robber left the business.

Nine days later, Mr. O'Donnell went to the store, bought beer and talked with a shop clerk, whom he knew, the report says. The shop owner, who was at the store at the time, recognized Mr. O'Donnell as the alleged robber, then called police with the license plate number to Mr. O'Donnell's Chevrolet Nova.

Mr. Pairo, meanwhile, questions the accuracy of the descriptions witnesses gave of the suspect.

The shop owner described the robber as a white man in his mid-30s, about 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing about 130 pounds. The robber had a thin beard and was wearing large sunglasses and a blue baseball cap, he said.

But a customer who saw the suspect before the robbery said the man was between 35 and 40 years old with sandy gray hair. She noted the sunglasses, but not the beard or cap.

Mr. O'Donnell is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 144 pounds, according to a police report. He has a mustache, but no beard.

When Mr. O'Donnell took the polygraph test at Verifacts Systems Inc. in Ellicott City, he said he was either at home or had gone to Baltimore to buy heroin at the time of the robbery.

Mr. Pairo said he expects Mr. O'Donnell to testify during the trial, even though the prosecution will then be able to introduce his client's criminal history.

Records show Mr. O'Donnell has been arrested four times since 1986 on charges including burglary, telephone misuse, alcohol intoxication and drug possession.

He also has two pending cases in Howard County, including one for drug possession and another for a burglary for which he has refused to take a polygraph test.

"He's no one up for sainthood," Mr. Pairo said. "But at the same time, he's not the one who committed this robbery."

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