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Alleged murder victim’s roommate testifies as trial begins

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CANTON — Guy C. Bartlett testified Friday that two women were present the night his roommate died following an alleged robbery by three masked men at their Ogdensburg apartment the evening of Nov. 18, 2010.

But Mr. Bartlett said under questioning in St. Lawrence County Court that he did not know the women’s names, and had trouble recalling exactly when they arrived and departed with respect to the attack that prosecutors say fatally injured Ralph E. “Gene” Lawton, 83.

“I can’t remember, because it was two and a half years ago,” Mr. Bartlett said several times, including in response to a question from defense attorney Lloyd G. Grandy II about how two of the alleged intruders managed to lift up Mr. Bartlett, then 64, and toss him onto his older, smaller roommate.

Mr. Bartlett was the first and only witness to take the stand Friday as testimony began in the trial of Ogdensburg residents Anthony W. Lalonde, Michael S. Thorpe and Michael D. Durand.

Mr. Lalonde, then 31, of 1106 Ford St., Mr. Thorpe, then 25, of 904 Elizabeth St., and Mr. Durand, then 29, of 513 Elizabeth St., were charged with second-degree murder and first-degree robbery.

The three are accused of causing severe injuries to Mr. Lawton that led to his death; an autopsy showed he received numerous blows to the chest, although it appeared he did not put up much of a struggle.

Mr. Durand is represented by attorney Gary W. Miles, Mr. Lalonde is represented by Mr. Grandy and Mr. Thorpe is represented by William John Galvin. Assistant District Attorney Amanda N. Nissen is prosecuting the case with Assistant District Attorney Andrew Botts. Judge Jerome J. Richards is presiding over the case.

In her opening statements, Ms. Nissen said of the masked men that evidence will prove the defendants were the assailants, one of whom allegedly brandished a wooden stick with a sharp wire attached.

“You will hear that they planned to rob him, and they came armed and prepared to take what they wanted, by force,” Ms. Nissen said.

The men allegedly fled with more than $1,000 and prescription drugs.

Mr. Grandy told jurors he was confident they would not be able, without a reasonable doubt, to say Mr. Lalonde was in the building that night.

Mr. Galvin told jurors that Mr. Thorpe’s girlfriend would testify that he was at home eating dinner at the time of the alleged robbery.

“It is a case about false accusations,” Mr. Galvin said, warning jurors to be vigilant for the testimony of liars and “low people,” prompting a rebuke from the judge.

Judge Richards told jurors to disregard the term, saying that while some witnesses have criminal convictions, calling them low “is an opinion; it’s an improper term.”

Mr. Miles advised jurors that while they might not like some witnesses, all will take an oath to be truthful, and jurors must assess each one’s credibility, whether civilian or law enforcement.

“What you will not find as to Mr. Durand is that he left any DNA at the scene,” Mr. Miles said.

Mr. Bartlett spent more than two hours on the stand Friday, during which he seemed to struggle with many questions about the events of that night, as well as with questions about statements he later gave to police investigators.

While he admitted occasionally handling drug transactions for Mr. Lawton when his roommate was not home, Mr. Bartlett also seemed to struggle when asked when he first became aware that his roommate of two years was selling drugs, or when he first learned the street terms for the prescription pills he claimed Mr. Lawton had been selling, occasionally with his aid.

Mr. Galvin asked Mr. Bartlett if he could describe the masks worn by the alleged intruders, including whether they were depictions of animals or humans.

“I can’t remember now. All I can remember is they had masks on,” Mr. Bartlett said.

Testimony is to resume Monday morning, with Mr. Bartlett back on the stand.

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