Wellsville man sentenced for knifepoint robberies

LISBON – Maintaining he is innocent even during sentencing, Lester Russell was given six years in prison for two counts of aggravated robbery on Tuesday by Judge Scott Washam of Columbiana County Common Pleas Court.

Russell, 31, Commerce Street, Wellsville, was convicted to robbing two stores at knifepoint. He reportedly plans to file an appeal of the conviction, which happened following a two-day jury trial last week.

In his statement right before sentencing, Russell continued to state he was innocent and blamed others for his situation.

“You need to check into the Wellsville Police Department, the mayor and Detective Jeff Haugh (of the county sheriff’s department) about drugs in Wellsville,” Russell said to Washam, “and I would provide evidence to that.”

Russell was convicted of robbing the BP on Lisbon Street with a knife at about 8:50 p.m. Oct. 18. Russell demanded money from the clerk and even threatened to cut her. He then fled on foot with $460.

Two days later, Russell reportedly tried to repeat the crime. At 9:54 p.m.,Oct. 20, he was accused of going into McGraw’s Drive Thru on Main Street again carrying a knife. Russell had opened the office door and demanded money from the clerk, who grabbed the arm with the knife and pushed Russell back out of the office. Russell had then fled on foot.

Assistant County Prosecutor Ryan Weikart asked for a total of 15 years for Russell, who faced up to 22 years for the two first-degree felony charges. Prior to sentencing, Weikart pointed out Russell has shown no remorse for the robberies despite his conviction.

“I know the statute says genuine remorse,” Weikart said. “We haven’t even had disingenuous remorse.”

Weikart noted the clerks from the two stores were simply doing their jobs when Russell robbed them for money. Weikart said Portia Cogar, the clerk at the BP, has told him how much the robbery has changed the way she does her job.

“There are times when she is on edge,” Weikart said, “wondering if that next person with a hoodie will be the next robber. These victims did not ask for this. They were doing their jobs, making an honest living.”

Defense attorney Richard Hura remarked that everyone has experiences which cause them to trust people less. He contended the experience was not that bad, noting during the jury trial there was testimony that when Russell robbed them he was polite, stating, “I hate to do this, but …”

In the case of the McGraw’s robbery, Hura contended it was Russell who was assaulted by the clerk.

He asked Washam for a three-year sentence for his client, noting the reason Russell is not remorseful is because he still maintains the jury has made a mistake.

Both Russell’s grandmother and his brother spoke on his behalf, talking about drug abuse by Russell and his girlfriend. Both said they do not believe Russell would have committed a crime without drugs in his life.

“He was not in his right mind,” said John Russell, his brother. “I think he should be given rehab before he is sent to prison.”