Selinsgrove man pleads guilty in 2005 Paxinos robbery case
SUNBURY - The 8-year-old armed robbery case against Erik James Harrington is nearing a conclusion because the defendant pleaded no contest Tuesday morning to two felony offenses that call for him to spend a maximum of 6 years in a state correctional institution.
The 23-year-old Harrington, of Selinsgrove, remains free on bail, but continues to be supervised by probation officers in Snyder County for an offense he committed after the 2005 robbery.
Harrington entered the plea before Northumberland County President Judge Robert B. Sacavage and will be sentenced at 1:15 p.m. Nov. 25.
Harrington's attorney, Peter Campana, of Williamsport, said the no contest plea will allow his client to be eligible for boot camp and other prison programs. By pleading no contest, Harrington is neither admitting nor denying guilty, but acknowledges that enough evidence exists that could lead to a conviction at trial.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Toomey said the no contest plea calls for Harrington to spend 3 to 6 years in a state correctional institution. He pointed out that Harrington had no criminal record prior to committing the robbery at age 15.
The armed robbery victim, James Honecker, 55, of Paxinos, testified about the adverse effect the crime has had on his life. Honecker said his health has rapidly deteriorated since the incident. The victim suffers from multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair.
Toomey said Honecker, who has waited a long time for Harrington to go to court, did not oppose the no contest plea offer.
The case was scheduled for jury trial Aug. 1, but that legal proceeding was continued until Oct. 9.
Campana asked for the continuance so he could have more time to hire an expert witness to combat a determination by Pennsylvania State Police forensics scientist Jeff Sachetti that DNA found at the scene of the July 16, 2005, robbery matched Harrington's.
On July 9, Sacavage denied Campana's motion to suppress DNA evidence. The defense attorney had argued that DNA evidence should not be allowed because a previous sample was improperly obtained.
Toomey opposed the continuance.
Campana's concern about the evidence dates to 2009, when Harrington was arrested for another felony, and had to submit a DNA sample via mouth swab. Harrington's DNA was then compared to that of a soda bottle found at the robbery scene.
Following testing, Sachetti reported he couldn't exclude Harrington from the scene of the robbery. On April 30, 2009, a search warrant was issued by Northumberland County Judge William Wiest for Harrington to submit a blood sample.
That sample was compared to the DNA found at the scene and allegedly was a match for Harrington, according to Sachetti.
A 2012 ruling threw out the DNA evidence because the search warrant was improperly filled out. The investigating officer, Trooper Ronald Zanella of the Stonington barracks, then got another search warrant, this time from a magisterial district judge, for another swab from Harrington.
The sample was received and sent to Sachetti, who reported the DNA at the robbery scene matched Harrington's.
Harrington was one of four suspects in the armed robbery at Honecker's residence.
Kasey A. Sees, 26, formerly of Sunbury, and two other assailants are accused of entering Honecker's home at 1:30 a.m. and holding him at gunpoint in his living room while threatening to kill him.
Police said the robbers demanded money, ransacked the home and removed 12 rifles and shotguns, knives, ammunition, cash, jewelry, an amplifier and prescription narcotics with a total value of $5,590. Police said the robbers also caused approximately $300 in damage by pulling telephone cords from the wall and damaging two televisions.
Sees was charged by state police at Stonington on Aug. 15, 2006, and eventually pleaded guilty to felony charges of burglary and robbery. He was sentenced to 3 1/3 to 6 2/3 years in state prison and ordered to pay $300 in fines plus costs, make $4,000 restitution to Honecker and pay approximately $8,800 in restitution to Honecker's insurance company.
Sees has since completed his state prison sentence and is free, and Honecker said he's received a few hundred dollars in restitution.
A criminal complaint was filed against Harrington on March 4, 2010, but the defendant reportedly fled to North Carolina, where authorities said he has relatives. He was taken into custody April 29, 2011, by authorities in North Carolina and was arraigned May 17, 2011, by Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III on felony offenses of robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, theft, criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, criminal conspiracy to commit burglary, aiding the consummation of a crime and simple assault.
After his extradition to Pennsylvania, he was incarcerated in prisons in Snyder and Northumberland counties. But his bail was reduced by Wiest from $100,000 cash to $50,000 cash at a hearing May 24, 2012. The commonwealth opposed the reduction, but it was still granted, and Harrington was able to hire a bondsman to post the bail. He was released from Northumberland County Prison on Oct. 9.
The other two assailants Honecker claimed were involved in the robbery were never located or charged.