Deliberations begin in casino robbery trial

A six-member jury in New London Superior Court began deliberating Thursday in the trial of a Norwalk man accused of robbing another patron at Mohegan Sun in August 2010 after a losing day at the gaming tables.

Sharnon I. Lee, 37, is charged with first-degree robbery and second-degree larceny. In his instructions to the jury, Judge Kevin P. McMahon also gave the panel the option of convicting Lee of the lesser charges of second-degree robbery or third-degree robbery.

Lee is accused of following Queens businessman Haridas Paul from the casino to the Indian Summer parking garage and confronting Paul as he climbed into his BMW sport utility vehicle. Paul testified that he didn't get a good look at the robber, who held a sharp object to the back of his neck and demanded money. Paul said he gave Lee $3,800 and a cellphone.

Lee had lost about $2,000 at Spanish 21 that day, while Paul, who played Four Card Poker, walked out of the Uncasville casino with about $18,000 in cash, according to testimony. Lee, who is married with children, had worked at The Home Depot for six years, but lost his job prior to the incident, according to testimony. He has no prior criminal record.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Lawrence J. Tytla told the jury they could use direct evidence and circumstantial evidence to find Lee guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He referenced surveillance video clips showing Paul and Lee in the same area inside the casino.

"There are four occasions you see Mr. Paul walk by," Tytla said. "Five to eight seconds later he's followed by Mr. Lee."

The surveillance cameras showed that seconds after Paul entered the elevator to the parking garage, the robber got on a separate elevator and went to the second floor, even though his car was parked on the sixth floor. Though the cameras did not catch the robbery itself, they showed the suspect walking to the area where Paul was parked, then returning to the elevator.

The surveillance films show the same man minutes later riding the elevator up to the sixth floor, where he got into his Nissan Altima and left. Surveillance staff and police identified Lee as the suspect from the license plate of his car. Later, police recovered the stolen cellphone within blocks of Lee's mother's house, where he had left his children when he went to the casino, according to testimony.

Defense attorney Philip Russell told the jury there are substantial problems with the state's case, including the fact that Mohegan Tribal Police Officer Elaine J. Faulise, during her testimony, could not say for sure whether there is an indicator on the first floor of the parking garage that shows what floor the elevator car is at.

Russell called that the "biggest, fattest, stinkiest reasonable doubt you've ever seen in your life," because if Lee was unable to determine what floor Paul rode to on the elevator, Russell said he could not have followed him and robbed him.

Russell disputes that a robbery even occurred that day. He said that during an interview with state police detectives, Lee said he was talking on the phone when he boarded the elevator and got off on the wrong floor.

The jury will resume deliberations Friday morning.

— Karen Florin

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