To lead prosecutor Stacy Parks Miller, the trial for three men charged in connection with a string of burglaries and robberies throughout 2009 and 2010 is a matter of “greed, guns and gangster wannabes.”
In her opening statement for the trial, which began this morning at the Centre County Courthouse Annex in Bellefonte, Parks Miller said people’s homes are supposed to be places of retreat and sanctuary. But the three defendants – Maksim Illarionov, 23, of State College; Dmitriy Litvinov, 25, of Bellefonte; and Anatoliy Veretnov, 28, of Bellefonte – treated these homes like “candy stores,” she said. The three men are charged with multiple counts of robbery, simple assault, criminal mischief, theft, receiving stolen property and conspiracy.
Parks Miller went on to say the robberies were more than just a way of life for the three men, and she said this was how the men made their living before being stopped by police. Parks Miller said these incidents would eventually escalate from burglaries to armed robberies involving assault weapons the men stole from a man Veretnov knew from Erie.
Veretnov was not originally a member of the “crew,” as Parks Miller described the men -- but she said he came in because he had connections to firepower.
Illarionov was the leader of the group, as described by Parks Miller, and would often brag to others about his role telling the others what to do.
Parks Miller described Litvinov as “the muscle,” and she said he would tell others that he enjoyed the robberies and the violence that came with them.
But Veretnov’s attorney, Ronald McGlaughlin, told the jury they shouldn’t be fooled by Parks Miller’s use of words like “gangster” and “crew,” summing this up as an attempt to paint a negative picture of the defendants.
McGlaughlin reminded the jury to maintain a presumption of innocence and said the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these three men did in fact commit the crimes they are charged with.
Illarionov’s attorney, Daniel Nelson, cautioned the jury against automatically presuming guilt because of “volume trap” – or what would seem to be a large amount of evidence indicating the trio’s involvement in the crimes.
“Just because there is a lot of evidence piled up, doesn’t mean they are guilty of it,” Nelson said. “It is up to you as jurors to use your judgment to decide if they are guilty or not.”
Jonathan Sobel, Litvinov’s attorney, made a point to distinguish between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence.
“Direct evidence is seeing rain,” Nelson said. “Circumstantial is waking up and seeing wet grass and inferring that it rained.”
Sobel said the prosecution will mostly be presenting circumstantial evidence, which she said is too flimsy to warrant a conviction.
The first witness was a soft-spoken woman with a thick accent who relied on a translator to understand the questioning, taking the stand at about 11 a.m. She said on the night of July 12, 2008, a man came into her cousin’s house where she was staying and robbed her at gunpoint.
She said the man told her to give him her money and he wouldn’t kill her. She said she led him down some stairs, where she rang the doorbell many times and ran to her neighbor’s house where she called police.