Had the owner of a West Annapolis drugstore not upgraded his security because of three increasingly brazen armed robberies within a few months, the laid-off truck driver who police say committed the first three probably would not have been quickly arrested in the fourth.
But in the final robbery at the Annapolis Professional Pharmacy, people in the community recognized a woman captured on surveillance footage as she scouted the place for the man, who always wore a mask and hoodie. That led to the arrest of Charles Edward Lawrence, 36, of Edgewater. The four armed robberies occurred between late October 2009 and mid-March 2010. Lawrence plead guilty to two last month.
Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul A. Hackner sentenced Lawrence on Wednesday to 16 years in prison. Still at issue is whether the handgun he used to scare pharmacists into giving him $40,000 worth of Oxycodone was a toy, as Lawrence claimed, or real, as his victims maintained.
Lawrence's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Michael Morrissette, said his client has been "severely addicted" to Oxycodone for a decade, after the painkiller was prescribed for him after oral surgery. Lawrence had been clean for periods of time, Morrissette said. Lawrence apologized for the crimes.
The robberies have left Warren Hill Jr., the pharmacist who faced Lawrence's gun three times, shaken and distrustful.
"I am constantly worried about losing my business and possibly my life," said the drugstore's owner, Michael Roberts.
Anne Arundel County Assistant State's Attorney Kathy Evans said Lawrence's audacity increased with each holdup. In the first, he lifted his shirt to display the handgun. In the last, he brought a shopping bag and pointed the gun in Hill's face.
Lawrence also was convicted in two 2006 robberies of an Elkridge pharmacy and jailed briefly in those, though he now may face probation violation charges. He was convicted of prescription fraud in 2007.
Why the same place, where he was recognized as a repeat robber? "Who knows? When I spoke to the officers, their thoughts were that it was the comfort level. Once you rob a place and you get away with it, you figure you can do it again and get away with it," Evans said.