A Brunswick man accused of robbing a convenience store at gunpoint is arguing at his trial that he only was playing a prank on a friend who was working as a store clerk.
Anthony Vandal, 25, of the 4200 block of Beverly Hills Drive, is charged with aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 11 years in prison. He’s also charged with a gun specification and a repeat violent offender specification, which could get him additional, mandatory prison time if convicted.
In October 2008, Vandal was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading no contest to three counts of burglary in Medina County Common Pleas Court.
Tyler Manske, 20, testified he was working at Michael’s Mini Mart on Pearl Road in Brunswick on the night of April 6. At about 10:40 p.m., Manske and night manager Forrest Jones said two men came into the store wearing masks.
Manske said one of the men pointed at him with what appeared to be a gun inside an opaque, pink plastic bag. The other man started shouting, he said.
“Give us the money,” Manske and Jones testified the man said and repeated.
Manske said he didn’t respond for a few seconds, and that’s when the unarmed man said, “Just shoot him.”
A video from a surveillance camera, played at the trial, showed what happened next: The armed man crossed around the counter and Manske reached for a crowbar. Manske chased the armed man down an aisle while the unarmed man left the store.
Halfway down the aisle, the armed man removed his mask and revealed himself to be Vandal, who was a former co-worker and friend of Manske’s.
Manske testified that Vandal appeared distraught.
“After he took off the hood, he didn’t seem like the Anthony Vandal I’d hung out with,” Manske said. “There was something about his eyes. I don’t know if he was drunk or high or whatever else.”
Manske and Jones testified that Vandal — who was a regular customer at the store — told them it was just a joke and left without stealing anything. He asked them not to call police, but Jones said he already had dialed 911.
Vandal was arrested 17 days later when he turned himself in to police.
Common Pleas Judge James Kimbler, who will decide the case because Vandal chose not to have a jury trial, asked Manske what overcame him to chase an armed man with a crowbar.
“Weren’t you worried you were going to get shot?” Kimbler asked.
“It was flight or fight,” Manske said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Manske and Jones were hesitant on the stand to call Vandal’s weapon a gun. They said they weren’t sure it was a firearm, but they thought it might have been.
Vandal’s attorney, Chris Langholz, said his client never meant to rob the store.
“It was a prank, albeit one that went too far,” Langholz told the judge during opening arguments. “There was no intent here to commit a theft offense.”
Langholz said his client was intoxicated at the time, and so couldn’t have known he had crossed a line.
County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Razavi told the judge Vandal and his accomplice — who was never found or identified — would have dropped the charade earlier if it was truly a practical joke.
“Anthony Vandal only removed his mask when he was in danger of being struck,” Razavi said.
In addition, Razavi said Vandal never said during police interviews or during trial whether the firearm was real or fake. The weapon was never recovered.
According to testimony by Brunswick police Detective Sarah Hosta, Vandal refused to say who the other masked man was. He told the detective he feared for his life and safety if he revealed the other man’s identity.
Razavi closed the state’s case after three hours of testimony Monday, and Vandal’s attorney made a motion to argue the judge should dismiss the charges because the state failed to prove its case.
Kimbler said he would give Langholz a week to file the motion in written form and would allow Razavi a week to respond. The filing dates could be delayed another week if either side requests a transcript of the trial, Kimbler said.
If Langholz’s motion is denied, the defense portion of the trial would begin.
Kimbler said he wanted to consider the case carefully before ruling.
“I would rather take my time to make a decision I know is correct than to rush a decision that may be incorrect,” Kimbler said.