Saturday, July 01, 2006

Home invasion robber seeks leniency

BRIDGETON -- A Superior Court judge on Friday refused to rule on a motion requesting a 5- to 10-year prison sentence for a Vineland man charged in a brutal 2003 home invasion robbery of an elderly couple.

John Palmer had pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree robbery, which is punishable by 10 to 20 years behind bars.

Defense attorney Michael Silvanio requested a reduction to a second-degree crime, punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison.

Cumberland County Assistant Prosecutor Tina Kell joined Silvanio in calling for the shorter sentence, but Judge Timothy Farrell said more information was needed to prove the lighter sentence would be "in the interest of justice."

Palmer, who has no previous criminal record, testified against the other two men charged in the Sept. 8, 2003, robbery on Almond Road in Vineland.

"He admitted his role in the crime and has shown remorse since the very beginning," Kell said. "And he provided information and testimony that was absolutely necessary to get the convictions."

Juries convicted Wayne Parker, 36, of Vineland, and Keith Kenion, 29, of North Carolina. Farrell sentenced Parker to 75 years in prison and Kenion to 63 years.

The two victims, both in their 80s, were bound, beaten and robbed of an estimated $100,000 in rare coins, jewelry and antiques. Kell described the crime as one of the more heinous crimes she had tried in her 16 years as a prosecutor.

During Friday's hearing, Kell said Palmer didn't enter the house, didn't assault either victim and was largely unaware of what Parker and Kenion were up to when he dropped them off at the house late that night.

The investigation into the crime revealed Palmer was told that Parker was picking up belongings from a former residence, and Palmer didn't learn there was a crime in progress until he returned to pick up Parker and Kenion after the assaults on the couple had occurred.

Palmer cooperated to the point where he and his family, who sat quietly in the courtroom gallery during Friday's hearing, now face retaliation from Parker's friends, Kell said. One credible attempt at retribution already has been recorded, Kell said.

Farrell remained unmoved.

"It's not that I'm unsympathetic," Farrell said, noting he presided over the trials where Palmer's testimony was crucial to the two convictions. "But I'm not sure you've satisfied the two-prong test that proves that it is in the interest of justice."

Farrell gave Kell and Silvanio until Aug. 4 to complete their arguments for the shorter sentence, explaining the legal matter required proof that the motion had to be consistent with state statutes.

Palmer, who was dressed in a suit and surrounded by family members as he left the courtroom, was released on bail shortly after he began cooperating with prosecutors.