Couple arraigned in parking lot robbery
By Eric Blaisdell
STAFF WRITER | June 07,2013
BARRE — A transient couple are being held after they allegedly robbed a woman of her purse at the Shaw’s parking lot in Berlin on Wednesday.
Todd D. Johnson, 28, is facing a felony charge of assault and robbery with injury, as well as charges of possession of marijuana, possession of a narcotic and violating conditions of release. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 22 years in prison and a $3,500 fine.
His girlfriend, Mary Ellen F. Juma, 30, is facing a felony charge of assault and robbery with injury, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
According to the police affidavit, Johnson was seen by witnesses “creeping up” on 77-year-old Alberta Herold in the parking lot, grabbed Herold’s purse and wrestled it away from her. Police say Herold received 10 stitches for a cut on her hand as a result of the attack. A witness said he saw Johnson holding a knife during the altercation.
The robbery was witnessed by several people as it happened around 10:30 a.m., and someone even recorded the encounter on cellphone video, which law enforcement later sent to media outlets and posted on social media websites looking for help identifying the suspect.
Police say that after Johnson took the purse, he ran back to a green Nissan Altima and was driven away by Juma.
Around 7:30 p.m., police located the Nissan at the Hill Top Inn in Berlin and learned it was being used by people staying in one of the rooms. Police said they then talked to the two people staying in the room, later identified as Johnson and Juma, who were with their two children.
Both initially denied any knowledge of the robbery, but police said Johnson eventually admitted taking the purse and agreed to give the purse to police if officers agreed not to seize the car and the room. When police searched Johnson after he was taken into custody, they found a marijuana “roach,” two methadone pills and a pellet gun, according to the affidavit.
Juma continued to deny any involvement in the robbery but did say she drove Johnson to the Shaw’s in Berlin several times that day, police said.
In court Thursday, Johnson’s attorney, Rosie Chase, said Johnson had been in Vermont for three weeks and was about to start a job at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Morrisville.
Johnson was heard repeatedly saying things during his arraignment, such as, “What about my job?” and “I moved up to Vermont to start a new life.”
Judge Thomas Zonay, who was appearing by phone, ordered Johnson held without bail, pending a bail review hearing, given Johnson’s weak ties to the state, the violence in the case and concern for public safety.
Johnson also is facing an unlawful mischief charge in an unrelated matter out of Lamoille County. As per his conditions of release, Johnson was ordered to live in Lamoille County, which he violated by living in Berlin.
Juma’s attorney, Andrew Delaney, said his client was trying to enroll in the Community College of Vermont and was about to start a new job. Zonay ordered Juma held on $5,000 bail given the seriousness of the charge and her weak ties to the state.
Juma had arrived at court with her two children. After she was taken into custody, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department was in contact with the Department for Children and Families to come pick up the children.
Johnson has a lengthy criminal record, including a federal conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm in 2008 and a 2005 conviction for cocaine distribution, and he was convicted last year of felony battery on a public transit employee.