By DON AINES
5:17 PM EDT, September 25, 2012
A man with four previous robbery convictions entered guilty pleas Tuesday in Washington County Circuit Court to robbery and attempted armed robbery, crimes committed within minutes of each other May 5.
Circuit Judge Dana Moylan Wright sentenced Mark Edward Ernst to 10 years in prison on each count, with the sentences running consecutively.
Ernst was charged with attempting to rob Phil & Jerry’s Meats and More at 22937 Jefferson Blvd. in Smithsburg, shortly after 7 p.m. In that incident, a man armed with a screwdriver entered the business and told employees, “Give me your money or I’ll shove this screwdriver through your temple,” the charging document said.
The man fled without taking any cash.
About 15 minutes later, police were called to the Liberty gas station at 20505 Jefferson Blvd. in Hagerstown for a report of an armed robbery, Assistant State’s Attorney Leon Debes told Wright. The employee at the Liberty station told police the man stole the cash register, Debes said.
Police had a license plate number and a vehicle description when a woman called 911 to report seeing a man jumping on a cash register in the parking lot of Meritus Medical Center, Debes told Wright. Ernst was stopped and arrested on Mount Aetna Road, Debes said.
Ernst has in the past been diagnosed with different types of schizophrenia, defense attorney Wiley Rutledge told Wright. Despite that, Rutledge said, “I do not believe competency is an issue.”
“I am on medication, but I understand everything you’ve said so far,” Ernst said when Wright asked if he was on any medications that would affect his ability to understand the proceedings.
Ernst had convictions for two robberies in 1997 and two more in 2004, Debes told Wright. In exchange for the plea, the state agreed to drop its subsequent offender notification, which could have meant a sentence of 25 years without parole, Debes said. All other charges filed in the May 5 incidents were to be dismissed as part of the plea agreement, Debes told Wright.
“His M.O. was exactly the same as in these cases,” Rutledge told Wright. His client has a long history of mental disorders and drug addiction that have contributed to his behavior, Rutledge said.
“There is an interface between the mental disorder and drug abuse,” Rutledge told Wright. “His intent is never to harm.”
After the incidents, Ernst drove to the hospital because his mother was there. She has since died, Rutledge said.
“I understand that, even with the condition I have, the things I did were crimes,” Ernst said.
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