Robbers' sentencing brings relief to crime victim

He was held at knifepoint

$150,000 was stolen

January 23, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Richard D. Graff still sits in his usual corner at Clara's Restaurant, watching his customers and wait staff. He still leaves every night at 8 p.m. - closing time - and drives the quarter mile down German Hill Road to his home.

Every night, he opens the door and walks in.

But since Sept. 24, 2002, when two men were waiting for him inside that dark entryway, life has changed for the 68-year-old Dundalk man.

"I'm like a prisoner," he said in his gravelly voice yesterday, sitting outside a Baltimore County courtroom. "I'm always expecting something."

Graff was hoping more than expecting yesterday. Baltimore County Circuit Judge John O. Hennegan was scheduled to sentence the two men convicted in the case. Graff wanted them sent to prison for years.

In the fall of 2002, it didn't take police long to arrest Timothy Thornton, 36, and Carl Lowery, 37, who sat shackled yesterday in Hennegan's courtroom. Witnesses had seen two men running down German Hill Road minutes after Graff was attacked, coins and stacks of cash falling from the bags they were carrying.

According to police reports, the two men had confronted Graff inside his home when he returned from work. They forced him to the floor and put a knife against his throat. One urged the other to kill Graff, according to court testimony, but the second man said they needed him to open the safe first.

They apparently knew that the cash receipts from his restaurant were stored in his basement.

The safe had recently been installed as a precaution. Graff's wife, Clara, had managed the finances of her namesake restaurant. After she died in August 2002, Graff found a layer of bills under her clothes in a dresser drawer. He decided to move the cash to a safe for extra security.

But word about the money got out.

With the knife against his throat that night, Graff opened the safe for the two men. He couldn't catch his breath, he recalled yesterday. He said he told the men to take all of the money - more than $150,000 - but not to touch his late wife's jewelry.

An automatic alarm on the safe sounded, and the men forced Graff into a closet and fled with bags of cash and coins, according to court testimony.

Police soon spoke with neighbors who, suspicious, had taken down the license plate number of the men's car.

Police said they found Lowery with $880, some marked with the numbers Clara Graff had used for accounting.

Thornton, they said, had 10 Susan B. Anthony dollars, all from 1979. Graff had sorted her collection of dollar coins by year. Later, police said, they found $115,585 in a trash bag at Thornton's sister's house.

Although Thornton and Lowery maintained their innocence, a jury convicted them in December of robbery and burglary.

"The planning and violence that went into this crime is astounding," Assistant State's Attorney Garret Glennon said in court yesterday, arguing that Thornton and Lowery deserved the maximum 40-year sentence.

Lawyers for Thornton and Lowery argued for leniency, saying their clients had not physically hurt Graff during the robbery. Lowery remained silent during the hearing. Thornton spoke for a few seconds.

"I miss my family, and I'm sorry for what happened," he said.

After the lawyers had finished, Hennegan spoke. He said the evidence against the two men was overwhelming and called the crime "a very serious case."

He sentenced both men to 30 years in prison: 20 years for the robbery charge and 10 years for burglary.

Graff and Glennon shook hands.

"I loved the verdict," said Graff, who now keeps his money in the bank.

By 2 p.m., he was back at Clara's.

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