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Probable Cause Found in Holdup

Claremont — A state Circuit Court judge found probable cause Thursday to charge a Claremont man with allegedly robbing the E-Z Mart on Maple Avenue Jan. 16, even though police did not present physical evidence in court linking him to the crime.

After the nearly one-hour hearing, suspect Travis Truell, 29, was returned to the House of Corrections where he is being held on $10,000 cash bail. His attorney, public defender Joseph Frankel, asked that a bail hearing be scheduled. Truell’s case will now be sent to Sullivan County Superior Court for possible indictment by a grand jury on a felony armed robbery charge.

After testimony from Claremont Police Sgt. Emily Cobb, Frankel argued that police did not have enough evidence to charge his client.

“We asked that the case be dismissed,” Frankel said to Fifth Circuit Court Judge Jack Yazinski, who was presiding. “There is no physical evidence.”

He called the testimony from Cobb in which she said several people had identified Truell in a picture of a video surveillance camera from the store, as “iffy at best.”

“The evidence is so iffy, probable cause can’t stand at this juncture,” Frankel said.

Claremont police prosecutor Anthony Shepherd said the fact that a Claremont police officer, who has known Truell from his past record, and a former state prison correctional officer, both positively identified Truell in the picture is “enough for probable cause.” Truell has served time in state prison.

Before making his ruling, Yazinski dismissed Cobb’s testimony that Truell’s ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Tozzi, identified him in the picture, because of their past relationship. Tozzi also told police it was Truell’s voice on an audio recording of one of the store cameras, but Yazinski dismissed that evidence also, agreeing with Frankel that the recording was obtained illegally and therefore not admissible. Shepherd said after the hearing that audio recordings are against state law unless the person being recorded is advised in advance.

Under questioning by Shepherd, Cobb said police received a call of a robbery about 8:30 on the evening of Jan. 16 and were given a description of the suspect by the store clerk. Cobb said the woman was alone in the store and counting money in a safe in the office with her back to the door when the robber entered.

When he approached the counter and she asked if she could help him, she saw his right hand in his pocket holding what appeared to be an object pointed at the clerk, Cobb said.

“It led her to believe he was armed with a gun,” Cobb testified.

Commanding the store clerk to “open the register” and “hurry up,” according to Cobb’s affidavit, the robber grabbed $20, $10 and $5 bills and fled the store on foot.

A witness standing outside the bowling alley behind the store, told police he saw a person run behind the alley into the woods. Cobb said a K-9 unit followed the scent and police were aided by tracks in the fresh snow.

A recently discarded cigarette was found in the snow and is being tested for DNA, Cobb said. The footprints ended at Wheelock Road, which is at the end of Park Avenue, and tire tracks at the scene led police to believe Truell was picked up in a vehicle.

Authorities released a photo from the video surveillance of the suspect to media outlets, and Cobb said Tozzi, the former girlfriend, went to police and said she believed the photo was of Truell. Though he had a scarf, hooded sweatshirt and goggles resting on his head at the time of the robbery, Cobb said about three-quarters of his face was showing. The audio recording by one of the cameras picked up the robber’s voice, which Tozzi also identified it as Truell’s, Cobb said.

“Without a doubt she said it was Mr. Truell,” Cobb said.

Frankel, during examination of Cobb, suggested that Tozzi harbors resentment toward Truell, the father of one of her children.

“Did she sound like she had an ax to grind,” Frankel asked Cobb.

“No. She was very matter of fact. She said ‘That is Travis,’ ” Cobb responded.

Other testimony from Cobb included statements from Tozzi that a scarf worn by the robber and shown in the surveillance photo was one Truell had given her but now was in his possession.

Frankel pointed out to the judge that police had no fingerprints or fibers from the gloves the robber was wearing, nor shoes to match with the tracks in the snow. He said the strongest evidence was from an ex-girlfriend whose new boyfriend is the brother of the store clerk.

“There is bias there,” Frankel said.

Yazinski ultimately ruled that identification by Sgt. Brent Wilmot of the Claremont Police Department and John Boiselle, the former state prison officer, of Truell in the surveillance photo represented sufficient evidence for probable cause.

Outside the courtroom on Thursday, Truell’s father Elroy Truell, maintained police have a weak case against his son.

“It is all hearsay,” he said.

Asked if his son could have committed the robbery, the elder Truell said it wasn’t in his character. “It’s not him.”

Truell did not speak at the hearing, but at his arraignment last week, Truell denied he was in New Hampshire when the store was robbed.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.