2017-05-19 / Front Page

Charlestown man gets state prison sentence for robbery

By CAMERON PAQUETTE
NEWPORT — A Charlestown man arrested in January for brandishing a gun and demanding drugs from a resident of a mobile home park was handed a state prison sentence in Sullivan County Superior Court on Wednesday, following emotional testimony from family that displayed just how much opiate addiction can change a person.

Judge Brian Tucker sentenced 26-year-old Andrew Laasanen to 3 to 6 years in state prison for the charge of robbery with a deadly weapon, stand committed. Concurrent 3.5 to 7 year sentences for reckless conduct with a deadly weapon and felonious use of a firearm were suspended 10 years consecutive to the robbery sentence, on good behavior and under the condition that Laasanen not contact the victims.

The state went into Wednesday’s sentencing hearing arguing for a 4 to 10 year sentence following Laasanen’s capped guilty plea on May 5 to the charge of robbery with a deadly weapon, with additional sentences on the charges of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon and felonious use of a firearm suspended under a fully negotiated plea.

Assistant County Attorney Geoffrey Gallagher said Thursday that the plea and sentencing hearings were not held on the same day to give the victims time to attend, along with witnesses and family members of Laasanen.

Fighting back tears at times, defense attorney Lauren Breda said Laasanen “hit rock bottom” when he decided to walk six miles from his aunt’s house where he was staying on Old Claremont Road to the Connecticut River Mobile Home Park with a gun on Jan. 23.

“Helpless, desperate and alone, he made a series of choices that led to him being here today,” she said. “Andy is so much more than his addiction.”

According to the arrest affidavit, Desiree Combs, a resident of the mobile home park, called police from work that afternoon to report that Laasanen had entered the home where she and roommate Jazmine Beam lived demanding drugs, after she had received a call from Beam.

Laasanen was armed with a loaded handgun and asked for drugs, according to the affidavit. Beam told Laasanen that he needed to leave, and followed him down the railroad tracks behind the park after he left, while on the phone with police.

Gallagher said that Laasanen’s action, entering their unlocked front door with a weapon in the presence of several children, took away Beam and Combs’ sense of security in their home, and that they moved out of state “as a result of this crime.”

“Although he didn’t leave with any physical property, he did leave with their sense of security,” Gallagher said, adding that the proposed sentence “sends a message that this conduct is very serious.”

Breda argued that Laasanen’s behavior in the incident was atypical due to a drug addiction that had started following the loss of his grandparents in recent years. Laasanen also lost his father at age 10, and started shooting heroin roughly eight months ago.

“These losses have caused Andy to be in an emotional state and caused him to not be able to cope with the grief,” she said.

The defense argued for a sentence of 12 months in the Sullivan County House of Correction with enrollment in the TRAILS (Transitional Re-entry and Inmate Life Skills) program to help Laasanen get back on his feet. Breda said suspended sentences for Laasanen’s other charges would hang over his head.

“Any slip-up puts him back in jail,” she said.

Breda said that Laasanen’s demeanor on the day of the incident was “not of someone in a violent rage,” and pointed out that Beam followed Laasanen when he left the residence, stating that “she’s not afraid of him.”

Breda also pointed out that Laasanen maintained since the day of the incident that he had visited the residence before to purchase heroin, and that he had no reason to lie to police at that point.

“This was not a home invasion. Andy was going to a place he’d been before,” she said.

Gallagher argued that there was no evidence to corroborate Laasanen’s claim that drugs were sold at the residence, and that Combs and Beam told police they had never sold drugs.

Family members and supporters of Laasanen filled the first two center rows of the courtroom, each with a letter to read to the judge. Laasanen’s mother, Alison Bigwood, said Laasanen was employed at Cold River Bridge, and was a hard worker.

“I understand how low he was at the time and that he could have hurt someone … I just want my son to have a fighting chance,” she said.

Laasanen’s girlfriend of five years, Nancy Gowell, said that her son looked up to Laasanen “like a second father,” even deciding to wear the same cologne and deoderant as him.

“All of us here will do everything we can to help him,” she said. “Since he’s been incarcerated, I’ve seen his brain come back to normal.”

Laasanen will be assessed for entry into the state prison’s Focus Unit program, an intensive, structured treatment unit through the state prison that provides treatment and support for inmates with diagnosed addictions.

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