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Norwich robbery defendant pleads guilty during trial

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published October 17. 2013 2:52PM   Updated October 18. 2013 12:22AM

Accused convenience store robber Rodney Hagins pleaded guilty Thursday after the victim and two other witnesses testified at his trial in New London Superior Court.

Hagins, 41, of Norwich, will be sentenced in January to 8½ years in prison followed by eight years of special parole. He pleaded guilty under the Alford Doctrine, which indicates he does not agree with the state's allegation but does not want to risk receiving a harsher sentence should he be convicted at trial.

According to testimony, he entered the Best Mart convenience store on Central Avenue in Norwich on July 28, 2012, with a knife, grabbed the store owner from behind and told the victim he would kill him if he didn't open the cash register. Hagins then fled the store with $300 to $400, only to be detained a few hours later at the nearby High Noon Saloon.

Defense attorney Linda J. Sullivan had unsuccessfully fought to keep from the jury the information that the victim positively identified Hagins as the robber when police drove him to the parking lot of the High Noon Saloon, shined a spotlight on Hagins and asked the victim if this was the man who had robbed him. Sullivan argued that the procedure was unnecessarily suggestive. Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed, who had listened to testimony from the victim and other witnesses at a suppression hearing Wednesday, ruled Thursday morning that the procedure was not overly suggestive.

It appeared that Sullivan planned to press the identity issue as the trial got underway. With the judge's permission, she arranged for Hagins to sit on a bench with three other black men of assorted skin tone, height and hairstyle during the testimony of Best Mart convenience store owner Rashid Munir.

But throughout the Pakistani store owner's testimony, neither Sullivan nor prosecutor Stephen M. Carney asked Munir whether he saw the man who had robbed him in the courtroom. Sullivan approached the identity issue indirectly during her cross-examination.

"You said you'd never seen him before (that night)?" she asked Munir. "No," he responded.

"And you've never seen him since?" she asked. Again, he said no.

The robber was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up, and Munir's description of him to police had been focused on prominent scabs or scars on his face. During Munir's testimony, Carney projected a picture to show that Hagins bore such facial markings when he was arrested a few hours after the incident. The scars have since healed.

In taking the case to trial, Hagins had turned down the state's offer to plead guilty in exchange for an eight-year prison sentence. When plea discussions resumed after the trial began, the prosecutor renewed the offer but added six months to the prison sentence.

k.florin@theday.com

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