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Suspect Arraigned for Armed Robbery of Elderly Claremont Man

Claremont — A Claremont man with a lengthy criminal record is being held on $100,000 cash bail following his arraignment yesterday in Claremont 5th Circuit Court on felony charges of armed robbery and illegally possessing a firearm.

Benjamin Ecklund, 31, of 142 Pearl St., was the fourth suspect arrested and charged in connection with the armed robbery of an elderly man on Elm Street March 6. Judge Jack Yazinski entered no plea on Ecklund’s behalf and scheduled a probable cause hearing for March 25.

According to court records, Ecklund threatened to shoot the 84-year-old homeowner during the course of the robbery that involved another man, Aaron Kiniry, a friend of Ecklund’s. Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway said in court that Ecklund is on parole from an earlier felony conviction.

Kiniry has been charged with armed robbery, being a felon in possession of a weapon and possession of drugs in his vehicle. Also charged in the incident were Thomas Meade, 18, of Newport, for aiding Ecklund and Kiniry by driving them to the home where the alleged robbery occurred and Jessica Russell, 32, of Claremont, who faces one count of receiving stolen property.

The police affidavits for Ecklund, Kiniry and Meade were ordered sealed but the one by Cpl. Emily Cobb leading to the arrest of Russell provides details of the events on the evening of March 6. The affidavit includes statements from the alleged victim, Kiniry and Meade.

The victim told police that shortly after he returned from buying a winning lottery ticket, two masked men came into his house, threw him to the ground and demanded money. One of them brandished a pistol and “told him that they wanted money, they knew he had money, and they told him they would kill him if he didn’t give them money,” Cobb’s affidavit reads.

The men got away with two winning lottery tickets with a total value of $25 and $77.50 in cash. Relying on surveillance cameras and an interview with the New Hampshire Lottery commission, police identified Russell as the person who cashed in the lottery tickets at a store on Pleasant Street, at the request of Ecklund.

Russell told police that Ecklund and Kiniry, her boyfriend, had left her apartment on the evening of March 6 and returned a short time later with two lottery tickets. Kiniry was arrested March 7 and told Cobb that he along with Ecklund, Meade and a fourth person, Matt Driscoll, 19, used Russell’s van that night and he “knew they were going to rob someone.”

Ecklund knocked on the victim’s door and after asking to use the phone claiming his van broke down, was let inside. Kiniry told Cobb he heard a scuffle and then Ecklund yelled for him to come inside. Ecklund and Kiniry knew each other from having been in jail together.

After stealing the money and lottery tickets, Kiniry said the money was used to buy cocaine and when they returned to Russell’s apartment she, Driscoll and Ecklund consumed it intravenously, the affidavit states.

Meade told Cobb he stayed in the van but did observe a hand gun and was told they were leaving it at a friend’s house.

In court yesterday, Hathaway said Ecklund has convictions going back to 1999 which include disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, false imprisonment, simple assault, resisting arrest, as well as two felony convictions in 2002 and 2009 for reckless conduct with a deadly weapon and a third felony conviction for second-degree assault in 2010. Ecklund, who was arraigned via video conference from the House of Correction in Unity, said he would not contest bail without an attorney. His only other statement was that the reckless conduct charges involved a motor vehicle.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com