"They are cold-blooded and violent crimes that tear at the fabric of society and cannot be left unpunished. You've done a horrible, horrible thing," Montgomery County Judge William R. Carpenter told Ian Taylor before sentencing Taylor to 10 to 30 years in state prison.
Taylor, 23, of the first block of Boxwood Court, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery in connection with the crime spree that took place between Sept. 15 and Oct. 22, 2002, in five eastern and western Pennsylvania counties.
Two other members of the gang, Travis Drumheller, 19, formerly of Boyertown and Lower Pottsgrove, and Joshua Sheeler, 22, who listed addresses in Boyertown and Douglassville, have also admitted their roles in the 10 armed robberies and are awaiting sentencing. They face between 80 and 95 years in prison because the crimes were committed with guns.
The fourth man, Michael McGrory, the alleged ringleader of the posse of robbers who wore ski masks and brandished rifles or BB guns and used duct tape to restrain employees of the businesses they robbed, has indicated he wants to go to trial for his role in the crimes.
McGrory, 30, of the 600 block of West Schuylkill Road, Pottstown, is also accused of taking part in the November 2002 Chester County killing of a Pottstown couple and their unborn child.
When asked by his lawyer why he got involved with the gang, Taylor, choking back tears at times, testified he was "stupid and weak."
"I just got caught up," Taylor explained. "I know what I did was wrong. I would just like to express how sorry I am."
Defense lawyer Michael P. Clarke described Taylor as the "classic follower."
"Who was leading these things?" Clarke asked Taylor.
"McGrory, sir," Taylor responded, adding the robberies were not his idea.
Clarke, arguing for leniency and a sentence of not more than 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison for Taylor, claimed Taylor's actions were a deviation from his usual "good character" and that Taylor cooperated fully with authorities when they closed in on the gang.
"This is a good kid. This is someone who for the first 21 years of his life gave no indication he would ever be involved in this sort of crime spree," Clarke argued. "I think he truly understands there has to be a price for his actions. He's just looking for a little light at the end of the tunnel."
While Assistant District Attorney Thomas McGoldrick conceded that Taylor was the least culpable and the most remorseful of the gang members and the "first domino to tumble in the case," he said a severe punishment was necessary. McGoldrick sought a sentence of at least 15 to 30 years in prison, asking that some of the five-year mandatory prison terms he sought for each gunpoint robbery be implemented consecutively.
"We have 12 victims who were terrorized at gunpoint. It doesn't get much more serious than this. In light of what Mr. Taylor and his co-defendants did, I think a significant sentence has to be imposed in spite of his cooperation," McGoldrick argued.
The judge said he took Taylor's remorsefulness and cooperation, as well as the seriousness of the crime, into account in fashioning the punishment.
During the hearing, Taylor's stepfather, Ken Reese, testified he and his wife, Corrine, did not have problems with Taylor growing up. Mrs. Reese, according to Clarke, was too distraught to testify Wednesday.
"We were both devastated. We felt it was outside his normal character," said Reese, referring to when the family learned about Taylor's involvement in the crime spree. "We couldn't believe this when we found out."
McGrory, Drumheller, Sheeler and Taylor were originally charged with taking part in the Sept. 30, 2002, armed robbery of the La Taverna restaurant in Schuylkill Township that netted more than $9,000, police said. In addition to the La Taverna robbery, Sheeler, Taylor and McGrory were charged in connection with three other Pottstown robberies - the Wendy's on High Street; the Papa John's on Shoemaker Road; and the Domino's on State Street between Oct. 13 and Oct. 15 of 2002.
Drumheller was accused of participating in the robberies at Wendy's and Papa John's.
The investigation eventually widened and the men were later charged for their various roles in connection with crimes that occurred in Butler, Somerset and Erie counties.
The crimes included armed robberies at two pizza shops, a video store, a beauty supply store and a dance club in western Pennsylvania.
Even though five of the crimes occurred in western Pennsylvania counties, Montgomery County prosecutors are handling the prosecutions, using a state law that allows one jurisdiction to handle prosecutions of all acts related to "a single criminal episode."
McGrory is being held without bail while also awaiting trial in Chester County on charges he took part in the brutal strangulation deaths of Kerry and Katherine Schadler, whose bodies were found in Towpath Park in East Coventry Nov. 22, 2002. Katherine Schadler was also pregnant.
Chester County authorities previously alleged the Schadlers were murdered because McGrory believed the Schadlers were about to go to police with information about the robberies.
Sheeler, according to authorities, bragged to the couple about the robberies, then told McGrory and another man, Matthew Eshbach, that Kerry Schadler had gone to the police to collect a reward that had been offered for information leading to the arrest of the robbers.
After speaking with Sheeler, McGrory and Eshbach, 27, allegedly set out to murder the Schadlers, according to police. However, there is no evidence the Schadlers ever cooperated with police and the reward Sheeler allegedly bragged about never existed.
Eshbach is also charged in connection with the murders.
McGrory faces a possible death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the Schadler killings.