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Witness says murder suspects asked him to participate in robbery

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CANTON — Victor R. Gardner cried in the witness box Tuesday afternoon when asked how well he knew murder suspect Michael S. Thorpe.

“My kids called him ‘Uncle Mike,’” Mr. Gardner told St. Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Amanda N. Nissen, before going on to testify that the man he called “Thorpey” and his two codefendants spoke with Mr. Gardner about their role in an alleged Nov. 18, 2010, robbery and scuffle that left Ogdensburg resident Ralph E. “Gene” Lawton fatally injured in his Ford Street apartment — a robbery Mr. Gardner said he was asked to help commit.

Thorpe and two other Ogdensburg residents, Anthony W. Lalonde and Michael D. Durand, are facing charges of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the case.

Lalonde, then 31, of 1106 Ford St.; Thorpe, then 25, of 904 Elizabeth St., and Durand, then 29, of 513 Elizabeth St., are accused of causing severe injuries to Mr. Lawton that led to his death; an autopsy showed he suffered numerous blows to the chest.

Mr. Gardner, 29, formerly of Ogdensburg, was sentenced to a nine-year prison sentence in 2009 after admitting to his own role in numerous burglaries. He testified Tuesday that he was asked to participate, but had misgivings during a conversation about the plan at the Ogdensburg home of Lalonde’s brother, Michael Lalonde, earlier the same day.

“I debated about it for a while. At the time I was addicted to OxyContin, and I needed the money,” Mr. Gardner said.

Mr. Gardner said he could not remember the victim’s name.

Mr. Gardner said Anthony Lalonde, who was living with his brother, was the first to ask him to participate, during a conversation in which a woman named Samantha — whose last name he could not recall — and another witness, Andrew C. Wells, were present.

Mr. Gardner’s estranged wife, Brandy Gardner, testified Monday that her husband was part of discussions that afternoon for “planning a job,” but that she rejected the idea when he asked if he could participate.

Thorpe also expressed misgivings, Mr. Gardner said, which were conveyed to Michael Lalonde during a phone conversation that afternoon.

“Thorpey didn’t want me to do it, because he didn’t want my wife knowing about it,” he said.

Anthony Lalonde and the woman named Samantha left later in the woman’s white car, Mr. Gardner said, taking two black plastic masks with them.

After returning to the Lalondes’ home. Michael’s wife, Chrissy, told them she’d received a call that the robbery victim was dead. Anthony Lalonde confessed the crime to him later in his bedroom, Mr. Gardner said.

“He told me they went in, things got out of control, the victim started struggling,” Mr. Gardner said, adding that Lalonde said they “didn’t get much.”

Mr. Gardner said he spoke to Thorpe about the incident on several other occasions.

“He hoped that everyone kept their mouth shut,” Mr. Gardner said, adding that Thorpe said he hoped a glove lost at the scene wouldn’t turn up, as it was his glove and likely contained his DNA.

Mr. Gardner will continue under cross-examination when testimony resumes today.

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