When Doris Lawson wouldn’t open the door to the two men standing outside her store, one of the men used to butt of his semi-automatic assault rifle to break the glass to get in, eventually forcing her to the floor.
Lawson, the store manager of the Centre Hall Dollar General, testified about the robbery that took place at her store on the night of February 22, 2010. She was the first to testify in the third day of the trial for the three men charged with committing various violent burglaries and robberies from 2009 to 2010.
The three men, Maksim Illarionov, 23, of State College, Dmitriy Litvinov, 25, of Bellefonte, and Anatoliy Veretnov, 28, of Bellefonte are charged with multiple counts of robbery, simple assault, criminal mischief, theft, receiving stolen property and conspiracy.
Lawson, teary-eyed and choked up, testified that after being forced onto the floor, another man came in to aid the other two robbers and she was eventually forced into the back room to extract $1,600 from the store safe. Along with the cash stolen, about $2,044 worth of damage was done to the store.
“It just kind of changes your life,” Lawson said. “I used to feel safe at my job and now I don’t.”
The other two workers who were at the Dollar General that night also testified today.
Thomas Estright, who was in the bathroom when the men came in, walked out of the bathroom to find himself staring down the barrel of a pistol brandished by one of the men.
The third worker, Jason Lukehart, testified today that he first thought the whole event was a prank. He said he was so stunned when the men came in and was confused by their thick accent that he didn’t automatically do what the men told him.
“It’s so surreal to me still,” Lukehart said. “I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, nothing like this happens. It’s all like some horrible wrong joke.”
The surveillance footage was viewed in court showing three men breaking the window, forcing the workers to the ground, and robbing from the back room.
Detective Ralph Ralston of the State College Police Department testified that a hard drive containing security surveillance of the Centre Hall Dollar General robbery was found at Illarionov’s residence on East College Avenue when he was arrested. Other electronics stolen from the Dollar General that night including a circuit board and cables for video cameras were found at another residence on South Allen Street.
John Johnstonbaugh, a former prison inmate who knew Illarionov and Veretnov, also testified today and said Veretnov confessed to him when they were on the same cellblock that he and his co-defendants had robbed in Centre Hall Dollar General.
Johnstonbaugh also said that he knew Illarionov from before their incarceration, and that he was going to be involved in certain robberies with that the defendants are charged with committing, including a robbery of State Amusement. Johnstonbaugh said that the idea of his being involvement in the robberies was just talked about and he never took part in any robberies with the defendants.
Another topic of testimony today was an apparent failed robbery attempt of Uncle Chen’s Chinese Restaurant, 430 E Calder Way. Tim Lin, the owner of Uncle Chen’s, testified that after the defendants were arrested and their photos were published in the Centre Daily Times, he called police and said one of them was in his restaurant a few days earlier.