David Hicks and Alexander Krouskas were working in the back room of the Smoothie King on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda around 9 pm on March 30, 2006, when Hicks heard someone enter the front door. Hicks, 21, and Krouskas, 17, came out of the back room together.
It wasn’t a customer they saw but a tall teenager wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and gray sweatpants, his face hidden by a ski mask and goggles. He was leaning over the counter trying to open the cash register, and he had a gun.
“Put the money in the bag!” the robber shouted.
“Are you serious?” Hicks asked.
Krouskas said nothing. He gave the gunman a hard stare.
“Yeah, I’m f—ing serious!” the gunman said.
Hicks grabbed the bills and handed them over. The robber stuffed $463 into a lime-green Vera Bradley handbag.
Robert Warren, 17, ran out of the store, ducked into a stairwell, and took off the goggles, ski mask, sweatshirt, and sweatpants. He wrapped them around the money bag and walked five blocks to where his friends from Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School were waiting in his car.
Behind the wheel was Whitman football star Patrick Lazear. In back were Justin Schweiger, Tommy Ashley, and Warren’s 16-year-old girlfriend, who attends Bethesda–Chevy Chase High School.
Warren got in the car. “Oh, my God,” he said. “I can’t believe I just did that. Let’s go!”
They drove two miles to Warren’s father’s apartment and divided the money. Warren took at least $350. Lazear got $35 or $40. Schweiger and Ashley were given $10 each, Warren’s girlfriend $5.
After the robbery, the five went to Uno pizzeria and later met up with their classmate Alex Krouskas, the boy who worked at Smoothie King. He got $40.
Robert Warren had planned to bury the clothes used in the robbery, but he didn’t have a chance to do it because his father was taking the car to be fixed. Instead, he gave them to his girlfriend, who promised to hide everything in her basement until Warren could bury them.
It would take less than three weeks for what happened that night to spill out to police. The girlfriend and Krouskas folded first.
Pat Lazear, Justin Schweiger, Tommy Ashley, Alex Krouskas, and Robert Warren were athletes who got good grades and took honors classes. They were popular and came from homes where their parents worked hard to create opportunities for them. As 17-year-old juniors, they were all bound for college.
Coaches were looking at them, especially Lazear—pronounced “lay-zhure”—a football linebacker so good he had played varsity as a freshman. The Washington Post named the six-foot, 215-pound athlete to its 2005 All-Met team, a rarity for a junior. He was the only junior defensive player named to the 2005 Maryland Consensus All-State team. He had more than 30 scholarship offers.
Three of the other four—Warren, Schweiger, and Ashley—played football at Whitman. All five were on the wrestling team.
Everything was moving along on the college track when suddenly the parents of Lazear, Schweiger, Ashley, Warren, and Krouskas found themselves sitting in criminal court, trying to keep their sons out of jail on charges of felony armed robbery.
Tommy Ashley’s parents needed a judge’s permission for their son to visit his grandfather, who was undergoing cancer treatment in Pennsylvania. Justin Schweiger’s attorney had to ask a judge if the boy could go to a classmate’s house to work on a school project. The Krouskases had to use their Bethesda house as collateral to make Alex’s $100,000 bond. The Lazears needed a court order for Pat to visit colleges. Robert Warren Sr. had to leave work backstage at the Kennedy Center one evening because the police were at his apartment door with a search warrant.
None of the boys was allowed to return to Whitman for senior year and graduate with his classmates this coming June. They were sent to five different Montgomery County high schools.
Harry Lazear—an assistant football coach at Whitman during his son’s junior year—had told a West Virginia high-school paper that by August 2006 the family would be announcing where their son would play college football. Such powerhouses as Ohio State, Alabama, and Maryland were at the top of the list.
Instead, last August, Angela and Harry Lazear and their younger son, Pat, sat in Montgomery County District Court waiting for a judge. The other families would soon be there too, only on different days with different $350-an-hour lawyers.
“One of the most difficult or disturbing aspects of this case has been everyone’s inability to answer the question of why,” said assistant state’s attorney Thomas DeGonia during a hearing. “Why would these students who are good students—not problems at school—do this? . . . They don’t need the money. They clearly don’t want the notoriety. The state is left with the explanation that these are young men who feel that, for whatever reason, they can do it and get away with it.”
Court testimony, public records, and interviews indicate this is what happened on the day the five boys decided to do something they would never be able to satisfactorily explain:
On March 30, Robert Warren got to school at fifth period. He had transferred to Whitman from Silver Spring’s Kennedy High School at the end of his sophomore year to play football because Whitman had a stronger program. Whitman excels academically as well as athletically. Ninety-seven percent of its nearly 2,000 students go to college.
Warren was a good student, though he already had a juvenile record for theft and burglary. In January 2006, according to Warren’s testimony, he had stolen two guns from inside his father’s apartment complex in Bethesda. One of them went off in his father’s unit—accidentally, the teenager said.
Warren joined his friends at their sixth-period class, known as “tech ed”—an informal shop-type class where even kids who aren’t taking it can wander in and eat lunch. On that afternoon, Warren, Pat Lazear, Alex Krouskas, Justin Schweiger, and Tommy Ashley got together, although Schweiger and Ashley weren’t enrolled in the class.
They didn’t talk about wrestling. They discussed how they could rob the Bethesda Smoothie King with the help of Krouskas, who worked behind the counter.
It was Krouskas’s first job; he’d started it a couple of months earlier to pay for car insurance, anticipating the day his parents would let him drive. Krouskas comes from a close-knit Greek family—his mother’s family has sold produce at DC’s Eastern Market for 40 years—and his parents had decided that even though he was 17, he wasn’t ready to get his license. His mother, Zoy Calomiris Krouskas, said in court that they thought he needed to mature.
Alex Krouskas had warned his friends about the store’s four surveillance cameras. “We talked about it,” Warren said, “but nothing was planned out during tech ed. After school, we all met up. Alex said, ‘I’m having second thoughts. I don’t want to do this.’ Pat got mad at Alex. He said, ‘No, it’s happening, man.’ ”
Shortly after the idea was hatched, Krouskas shared the robbery plans with senior Rudy Moures. Moures—who was in tech ed that day—told everyone to chill out, suggesting that the robbery wasn’t worth the few hundred dollars it would get them.
“I knew it was going to be trouble,” Moures—now a freshman at the University of North Carolina—says. “They were on my wrestling team. I could have been there, but I decided it was a bad idea . . . . I think they thought going into a store like Smoothie King with a fake gun wasn’t a serious thing. It wasn’t like they were robbing a bank.”
Moures regrets that he didn’t try harder to stop it—“but I wasn’t sure it was going to actually happen.”
After school, Warren told the court, he drove to his girlfriend’s house, where they watched TV. He didn’t tell her about the plans until Lazear called and asked, “Are we going to do it?”
The girlfriend wanted to come along, and the two boys agreed. Sometime between 6:30 and 8 pm, the couple drove to Warren’s apartment on Westbard Avenue in Bethesda, where he was living with his father; his parents were divorced.
“We went up to my room and grabbed a pair of swimming goggles, a snow hat, and put them in a bag, and I told my dad I was going to see a movie,” Warren said. He also took gray sweatpants, a black hooded sweatshirt, black gloves—and a gun Lazear had given him.
It’s in dispute whether Warren already had Lazear’s 9mm replica BB gun or whether Lazear had brought it over that night. But it was Lazear’s. He had gotten it a few years before from a friend and called it a “joke gun.” His parents didn’t know he had it. The problem, as the state’s attorney noted, was that even if the weapon couldn’t fire, it looked real.
With Lazear driving Warren’s SUV, all five headed toward the Smoothie King on Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda. As they drove, they talked about who should go inside the store where Krouskas was working.
“It came down to me and Justin,” Warren said. “Pat said he was too big—people would notice him on the camera. Tommy’s legs were too big.” Tommy Ashley’s legs, friends say, are like tree trunks. “Me and Justin are about the same size, but I was the one who went in. . . . By the time we stopped, I had the sweatpants and sweater on, gloves in my pocket, and the inoperable gun and the purse.”
The Vera Bradley handbag was the girlfriend’s. “They had brought a bag,” she testified, “but it had whitman on the outside and Pat’s name inside, so I offered Robert my bag.” According to Warren’s testimony, she also offered her cell phone.
Minutes after the robbery, Smoothie King employee David Hicks called his manager and then 911. Hicks had gone to Whitman, but he was older and didn’t know the boys. He had worked at Smoothie King only a few months and barely knew his coworker Alex Krouskas.
After the robbery but before police showed up, he and Krouskas talked about what to do. Hicks sensed something wasn’t right. He turned to Krouskas: “Do you know anything about what happened?” Krouskas said nothing. “But he had a sly look on his face,” Hicks testified.
The secret would keep for 18 days.
On April 17, Montgomery County police wanted to talk to Krouskas again and called him into the station. While waiting to be questioned, and as police watched, Krouskas sent a text message to Warren warning him that the police were asking more questions.
What Krouskas and the others forgot is that text messages don’t disappear. Police also easily obtained the cell-phone records from the night of the robbery. The charging documents state that “approximately one hour after the robbery Alexander Krouskas called a cell phone number registered to an A. Lazear.” That was Pat’s mother, Angela.
Soon Krouskas was saying he knew who had done it but was refusing to be a snitch. It didn’t take long for him to give up Warren.
Eight days later, based on accounts by Krouskas and Robert Warren’s girlfriend, police got a warrant for Warren. On April 27, he was arrested and spent the night in the Montgomery County Detention Center on Seven Locks Road. Bail was set at $15,000.
At first, Warren denied he was involved. Then he switched his story: He was there, but he wasn’t working alone. The next day, he told police he did it but was acting alone; the others in the car were innocent.
“Pat’s got a lot to lose,” Warren told police. “These guys had nothing to do with it.”
Later he told the court why he had lied: “I was trying to protect them because they are all just good kids who made a dumb mistake.”
On May 18, the four remaining boys were arrested while in class at Whitman. The police had collected the clothing and gun from the girlfriend’s house, and those involved began turning on one another. Warren eventually told police it was Lazear’s idea. Bail was set at $100,000 for Krouskas, $15,000 for the other three.
To get their kids out of jail, the parents had to post 10 percent of the bond. Personal checks and credit cards aren’t allowed, which means the parents of Warren, Ashley, Lazear, and Schweiger had to scramble to put together $1,500 in cash or a cashier’s check. Zoy and Constantine Krouskas had to post a property bond, using their home to get their son out of jail. All but Alex Krouskas, whose parents bailed him out after nine hours, spent a night in jail.
Even though the boys were 17, they would be tried as adults because of the crime’s nature. Warren had robbed David Hicks at gunpoint. It didn’t matter that the gun was a fake; Hicks didn’t know that. Lazear had driven the getaway car and allegedly supplied the gun. Krouskas had known about the robbery ahead of time and provided inside information.
The five were charged with armed robbery, first-degree assault, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and theft of less than $500. Four of the five faced a maximum of 93 years in jail and a $1,000 fine—Warren’s charges carried a maximum of 161½ years and a $500 fine—though it was doubtful they would serve that. Police added possession of a firearm to Warren’s other charges. Warren’s girlfriend was given immunity for her testimony and cooperation.
The parents called some of the area’s best lawyers. The Lazears contacted Paul Kemp, who often makes The Washingtonian’s list of top lawyers. Kemp charges a minimum of $380 an hour. By the time it was over, one of the attorneys estimated that each family had spent $12,000 to $15,000. Angela Lazear testified that the family had dipped into Pat’s college fund to cover legal fees. Around that time, Harry Lazear’s Montego-blue 1993 RX-7 was for sale for $17,000.
The arrest wasn’t made public until police issued a statement on May 25. Soon the boys’ classmates were calling them the Whitman Five, and TV reporters were swarming the campus. Only the day before, Lazear had attended a luncheon honoring the Post’s All-Met athletes.
On May 26, Whitman’s student paper published a story about the arrests. Robert Warren said: “It’s not what it seems. It was just a dumb prank that went wrong. I’m not saying it wasn’t serious, but it was just something really stupid.”
At first, principal Alan Goodwin said the boys could finish the school year because none had disciplinary problems and the robbery had occurred off school grounds. But after he learned that the plan had been hatched on school property, the five boys weren’t allowed to return.
They would never go back. During summer 2006, Goodwin recommended they be expelled; instead the school board transferred them to different high schools and allowed them to play sports, starting with August football practice.
Once their story went public, the Internet lit up. Few came to the boys’ defense:
“Rich kids get away with murder, so what’s an armed robbery? . . . They won’t do no time, but they should do 5–10 years,” read a post on Channel 7’s Web site.
“Just typical of the favoritism shown to down county little rich kids who can get away with anything because mom and dad are lawyers, etc. or can afford one,” read another in response to a Washingtonpost.com story.
“I can already hear the lawyers for these five describing them as ‘good kids.’ ‘Good kids’ is lawyer-speak for white kids from privileged backgrounds,” wrote a visitor to WTOP’s site. Someone else added: “If these kids had been another race or been in any other part of the county, would we even be having this discussion?”
From a letter to the Post: “The mystery has been solved! The mystery of how student-athletes often make such poor decisions, that is. The answer, it seems, is quite simple. No matter what an athlete does, there will always be someone who will turn the other cheek and give him or her as many chances as necessary, as long as he or she is bigger, faster and stronger than everyone else.”
Some of the boys had to wear electronic monitoring devices around their ankles. They couldn’t go beyond 50 miles of their homes without notifying the court. All had some form of house arrest or curfew. Everything they did would be supervised by parents and probation officers.
Lazear had to be home by 7 every night and for the first month underwent urine tests. He and Tommy Ashley needed permission to attend a football camp; their parents had to accompany them, and the boys could have no direct contact with each other. Justin Schweiger had already paid for a summer football camp at a university in New York to try out for a college scholarship. He couldn’t go without court approval.
“What I find so offensive about this particular set of facts,” Montgomery County state’s attorney Douglas Gansler told Channel 4, “is that we’re dealing with five kids who come from good families, a great school, playing sports, have a future ahead of them, and then going out and doing something like this. It’s unfathomable.”
As one boy after another went through the court system, each was asked: Why?
Warren said he had done it to be friends with Lazear, who had egged him on. Warren was the new boy. “To answer why—because I wanted to fit in,” Warren told the court last October, his voice about to break. “To be around this kid made me feel good. Kids looked up to him like they looked up to me at Kennedy. He was a god. . . . I wanted that feeling. People would look up to me because I was friends with him. They were like: ‘You’re friends with Pat? Whoa.’ ”
Pat Lazear later told a judge that it had been Robert Warren’s plan and that the biggest mistake he’d made was not stopping the robbery. Warren said the idea came from Lazear and Krouskas. Lazear’s lawyer, Paul Kemp, said that before the incident Lazear had envisioned this as a victimless crime and was surprised to find David Hicks behind the counter.
“This whole thing was not my idea,” Lazear told a judge. “I was not a driving player in this event. My friend Robert Warren wanted money, and I just went along with it.”
Tommy Ashley wasn’t a key player, but he was in the getaway car.
“There’s no doubt that Mr. Ashley participated in the gang mentality that pervaded this whole thing,” Montgomery County district-court judge Joseph Dugan Jr. said. “You got that many young guys, all laughing, joking. . . . Certainly by his presence, he lends his assistance.”
Alex Krouskas, at five-foot-five, is five inches shorter than Warren, the next smallest. Krouskas’s mother testified that her son has had nephrotic syndrome since he was two, requiring him to take “massive” amounts of steroids: “When he was older, the steroids made him more anxious and changed his physical appearance. It was a big issue for Alex. It made him very puffy-looking.” She blamed herself for being too protective.
Justin Schweiger’s therapist, David Eddy, suggested in court that Schweiger had done it to belong. Although he was an athlete, he’d had to work doubly hard for everything. He had grown up without a father and had juvenile diabetes.
“I think Justin has the ability to look at situations but not to resist the temptations,” Eddy said. “I believe he doesn’t have the confidence of self to resist the majority.”
Their former football coach, Eric Wallich, offered this explanation: “I don’t know that they really thought it through. I believe since Robert Warren was going in and Alex was inside . . . in their hearts they didn’t believe they were doing anything wrong.”
The way society venerates young athletes may be partly to blame. So may family background, privilege, temperament, and the degree to which teens are supervised.
But the immaturity of the boy brain may provide a better answer.
“There are a lot of neurological reasons why boys are likely to do stuff that seems stupid, aggressive, and even immoral,” says William Stixrud, a Silver Spring neuropsychologist.
Scientists used to think sexual maturity and brain development occurred simultaneously. But thanks to magnetic resonance imaging, research shows that boys are slower to develop executive functioning—the ability to control behavior—than girls.
“These boys probably don’t know why they did it,” says psychologist Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. “We used to think that adolescent brains were developed by about 18. Now we know it’s more like 24 for boys. The reason teens do stupid things is they really aren’t finished developing their executive function, which would tell a kid: ‘If I rob a store, everything I’ve worked for might go down the drain.’ This is why it’s so important for parents to set strict limits.”
Research indicates that the last part of the teen brain to mature fully is the prefrontal cortex, which makes sound judgments and controls impulses.
“The implication,” Stixrud says, “is that generically teenagers are slow to develop this frontal lobe, which implies they have an inability to check an impulse. In other words, two years later these boys may have the same idea, but as long as they aren’t sociopaths, they have much more of an ability to say, ‘Wait a minute. We could get in trouble.’ If I were a defense attorney, I would be using this theory.”
Recent research by Laurence Steinberg—a Temple University psychologist and director of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice—looked at the likelihood that teens would drive recklessly in a video driving game if others were in the room. He found that teens were not apt to be reckless alone, but the risks they took doubled if two friends were there. When Steinberg tried the test with adults and friends in the room, the adults didn’t take any extra chances.
“We understand that kids have poor inhibitory control in the presence of peers,” Stixrud says. “With five kids in the car, the ability to inhibit and go against the group is much harder.”
But most teenagers don’t do this kind of thing. People who study adolescent behavior believe society makes too many excuses for athletes, convincing them they can live by separate rules.
“Good thing none of them were black,” says Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor at the Stony Brook University and author of Manhood in America: A Cultural History. “They did it because they thought they could get away with it. We protect these guys, and they get the false idea they are invincible. High-status athletes get the idea that they are entitled to do anything they want, and the entire school and community will support them and cover for them. And in large part, they are right.”
Privileged backgrounds compound matters, Madeline Levine says: “If your kid breaks the law, he should face the consequences. A kid whose parents buy off a DUI or something like this learns a different lesson about how the world works. The lesson they learn is they are not responsible for their actions. In fact, the world is nowhere near as kind as your parents.”
Mike Verrett is general manager for three area Smoothie Kings, including the one robbed. “What gets me is the Bethesda mentality,” he said outside the courtroom. “Where were the parents? No one seems to think this is a big deal. Just some kids who made a mistake. I don’t get that. It was armed robbery.”
One of the first things each set of parents did was try to get their son’s case transferred to juvenile court because the boys were 17. In juvenile court, any punishment wouldn’t be made public, and when they turned 21 they wouldn’t have a criminal record.
Pat Lazear was the first to try to get his case out of adult court. In late August, he had to take time off from preseason football practices at Wheaton High for a waiver hearing, where a judge would decide if he would be tried as an adult or a juvenile.
Soon Justin Schweiger, Tommy Ashley, and Alex Krouskas would all go to court for the same reason. But not Robert Warren; because he had been in juvenile court the previous January on a gun offense, he didn’t stand a chance of getting out of adult court.
Lazear’s attorney thought his client might have a shot. On August 30, Lazear, his parents, his tech-ed teacher, his trainer, and two other witnesses waited in Judge Dugan’s courtroom at 9:30 am. Lazear wore a gray pinstripe suit that seemed too big.
Before his case was called, everyone in the courtroom watched as a 41-year-old African-American was sentenced for stealing $1,200 worth of pants from Nordstrom. The man told the judge he had started smoking marijuana when he was eight and had to steal food as a kid.
“A lot of my childhood is the reason why I am today,” the man said. Since 1980, he’d spent most of his life incarcerated.
Dugan gave him six years in prison.
“Six years for some f—ing pants!” the defendant yelled. “Motherf—ing white boys get less time for far worse!”
He could still be heard swearing just before Lazear’s hearing began.
A retired judge who had met Lazear once at a gym called Lazear’s lawyer after reading about the robbery in the paper. He wanted to testify for Lazear. “I liked the way he looked me in the eye,” the judge said about the boy.
Several other character witnesses talked about what a leader Lazear was. None could understand why the boys would rob a store for $463. “I was shocked, then very sad, and then very angry,” said John Nalls, an attorney who runs a football program Lazear joined when he was seven. “Patrick knows with talent . . . comes responsibility. This is so incredibly out of character.”
Some might take issue with that because—as Judge Dugan noted in court—this was not Lazear’s first involvement with the law. In February 2005, Justin Schweiger, an honor student, stole a credit card from a girl’s purse and went to ten stores charging items. Lazear used the same stolen card to buy a pair of $128.99 sneakers. Both boys went through the Juvenile Education Training program in juvenile court in lieu of jail time, and by September 2005 their cases were closed.
“I’m just wondering what kind of role model would go through the juvenile system once and come back,” Dugan said about Lazear. “I’m just curious what kind of person would become the wheelman in this kind of adventure.”
Says neuropsychologist William Stixrud: “The fact that some of these boys have already been in the juvenile system and nothing happened is a very relevant fact in terms of their model of the world and what they can get away with.” ➝
Angela Lazear testified for her son in late August, telling the judge it had been “a very rough three months.” Mrs. Lazear—chief financial officer for the Mortgage Bankers Association—appeared bitter at how Whitman and the school board had treated her son, first trying to expel him, then transferring him to a school nine miles away. Her husband, Harry, had been an assistant coach for the Whitman football team for ten years.
When the judge wondered why Pat hadn’t learned anything from his first brush with the law, his mother reminded Dugan that her son had not stolen the credit card in question.
“The person who did took his friends shopping,” she said. “It was seen as going shopping with his buddies.”
The judge asked how she could explain her son’s involvement with the Smoothie King robbery.
It had shocked her, she said. She and her husband had thought Robert Warren a bad influence and advised Pat not to hang around with him too much. Pat had befriended Warren, she said, because Warren was an underdog on the wrestling team.
She told the judge her son had “suffered great consequences” and had learned from this. “He has paid a price for this lack of judgment, or whatever you call it, starting with spending the night in jail. He was not able to go to summer practice. He then had to do two-a-days with an ankle beeper. He’s had to leave practice early to get home in time for his curfew. He’s had to go through the tarnishing, if not ruining, of his reputation.”
She added that college coaches had told the family Pat wasn’t eligible to sign with them until the matter had been adjudicated. “It’s been a hanging threat over our heads,” she said.
There was something else that bothered Judge Dugan: “When this happened, this second brush with the law, did you and his father ever think about saying, ‘Pat, as far as we’re concerned, you are not going to play football’?”
She said no. The family had been counting on football to help pay for Pat’s college education. It would hurt Pat too much to take away football: “It would ruin his future, and we would never do that to our child. I’m sure you wouldn’t, either.”
The judge said, “I don’t know about that.”
The waiver hearings to transfer the cases to juvenile court for Schweiger, Lazear, Ashley, and Krouskas were similar, each with a handful of witnesses who vouched that they were good kids who had made a bad mistake.
All of the witness testimony extolling Lazear as a leader backfired. As the big man on campus, the judge said, the one who had already been in court, the one who had so much to lose, Lazear should have stopped the robbery.
“Robert Warren wasn’t the BMOC,” the judge said, addressing Lazear. “Mr. Krouskas wasn’t the BMOC. Who is the driving force behind the thing? I happen to believe it may be you. Clearly, you could have stopped it. . . . A good person does not do this kind of thing. This is not ‘boys will be boys.’ This is in no way, shape, or form a childish prank.”
Lazear would be tried as an adult. Only Ashley got leniency. On September 29, his case was sent to juvenile court, where he pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact to robbery and was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and put on probation.
“Why he would even be in the car is beyond me,” Judge Dugan said. “There was unquestionably a time when this young man could have sung out, ‘This is crazy!’ Here he is, this big, strong guy, and he doesn’t have the guts to do what his parents have raised him to do.”
Ashley often attended Whitman basketball games, where sometimes the opposing team’s fans shouted, “Guilty! Guilty!”
Because Krouskas had worked at the Smoothie King, he didn’t get a break; the judge said he was also bothered that Krouskas had asked police for a copy of the surveillance tape to show his friends shortly after the robbery.
“This is a very, very serious offense,” Dugan said at Krouskas’s waiver hearing. “This is way beyond a simple mistake in judgment of a juvenile. My assessment was that Mr. Krouskas was a lot more involved than he told anyone else. I don’t believe Alex has been truthful.”
Schweiger, too, would be tried as an adult. Dugan was equally puzzled about why Schweiger would be back in court after the credit-card theft. Schweiger’s therapist, David Eddy, offered the undeveloped-boy-brain theory. Justin lacked judgment and foresight, he said: “I don’t think it’s insensitivity to the system. It’s more of who he is and that he’s not come close to completing his development.”
Schweiger demonstrated the truth of that statement on June 19. According to a police report, less than a month after his arrest, Schweiger—who is six feet and 180 pounds—threatened Jennifer Andrews Hughes, 47, who is five-foot-two. He was speeding through his Bethesda neighborhood in a Nissan, and she yelled at him to slow down. He gave her the finger. Minutes later, they met by chance at the local swimming pool. She approached him, and he got within inches of her face, saying, “You f—ing bitch. I’m going to hit you.” When she found out who he was, she called police.
After that, Dugan ordered Schweiger to wear an electronic monitoring device and told him he couldn’t go to any football camps.
Each time Judge Dugan made a ruling, he reached out to the parents, admitting he’d lost sleep trying to decide what was the right thing to do.
“I have four children,” Dugan said at Justin Schweiger’s hearing. “That in and of itself is why my heart goes out to Mrs. Schweiger. I can only imagine the heartache that this has put you through.”
Ellen Schweiger, a single parent, nodded.
Dugan ordered Schweiger to stand trial in November.
Robert Warren and his attorney decided that because Warren had already been in trouble with the police, they should work out a deal. On October 19, he pleaded guilty to felony armed robbery and was given five years’ incarceration, with all but four months suspended. He spent 30 days in jail and another 90 under home confinement.
Judge Paul H. Weinstein gave Warren two years’ probation and ordered him to keep a diary of his time at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Clarksburg and then speak to two high-school assemblies about his experiences.
“Hopefully, it will deter somebody else of your age who might do something as dumb as what you did,” Weinstein said.
Other charges were dropped in exchange for his plea.
Fall of senior year is both stressful and exciting for high-schoolers as they apply to college. They often cling to the friends they’ve grown up with, knowing their lives are about to go in different directions.
This past fall was unlike anything the “Smoothie King boys”—another name their classmates gave them—would have chosen. None was going to school with close friends. Schweiger lived under house arrest, allowed to leave only for school or to see his lawyer, doctor, or therapist. Krouskas’s parents wouldn’t let him play sports. Ashley tore out his knee, putting an end to his high-school football career. Warren was working for a computer store and attending a school very different academically from Whitman.
Lazear was allowed to play football for Wheaton, and the team elected him captain. On game days, he wrapped an Ace bandage around his ankle monitor for protection. Each time, an umpire had to inspect it to make sure it was adequately padded. Fans of opposing teams taunted Lazear, sometimes yelling “Convict!”
Lazear didn’t help by talking to the press in September. He told the Washington Post that the “curfew sucks. I was going to have this great summer—go on fishing trips, get a job, go to the beach. I couldn’t do any of it.”
Justin Schweiger’s case went to trial three days before Thanksgiving. Warren and the girlfriend were key witnesses for the prosecution. The jury found Schweiger guilty of misdemeanor conspiracy to commit robbery.
In January, Judge William A. Rowan III sentenced the straight-A student to seven years in jail, with all but 11 months and seven days suspended. Schweiger got 175 days’ credit for time served on home detention but had to go to jail for 30 days. After jail, he has 29 weeks of home detention until June 30 and must perform 100 hours of community service.
“There is going to be no spring break,” Rowan said. “No graduation parties. No prom parties. No beach week and no graduation. . . . I could keep you in jail the whole time. But you are a senior. All those things were meaningful to me when I graduated. They should be meaningful to you. You’re going to be deprived of them.”
Soon after, Krouskas and Lazear pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor. On February 1, Krouskas was sentenced. He got no jail time. His three-year sentence was suspended to four months of home detention with a monitoring anklet, followed by one year of probation. He must also do 50 hours of community service. He plans to go to Montgomery College in the fall.
“Robert Warren came up with the idea, but Lazear put the full force of his charisma behind it,” Krouskas’s attorney, Mariana Cordier, said. “I’m pleased and relieved. These are nice people, a nice family. Alex was prepared to go to jail; he brought his tennis shoes to court.”
All of the judges had the same reaction: They looked at the kids and shook their heads. They saw a pointless crime. They saw a waste of the court’s time and their parents’ money.
Ohio State, where Lazear had wanted to play football, lost interest. “We would not recruit or sign any student athlete who was accused of or convicted of a felony,” OSU sports-information director Steve Snapp says.
On December 15, Pat Lazear stood before Judge Katherine Savage for sentencing. “There are two people sitting there looking like they just got their world knocked away,” Savage said of his parents. “They did not bring you up to do this.”
Angela Lazear nodded.
“If the clerk had dropped dead of a heart attack,” Savage warned, “you would be in here on charges of murder.”
She asked whether his parents wanted to say anything. Angela Lazear stood and reached back for her husband’s hand.
“Pat’s young,” she said of her now 18-year-old second son. “We are sorry. Not just to you and the community but to the people who helped grow Pat. He’s talked about as though he’s a leader. He is on the football field. But he’s a kid. . . . Pat needs mercy.”
Savage issued her sentence: ten years’ incarceration, with all but eight months and ten days suspended. He had already spent seven months under house arrest; the ten days would be at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Clarksburg. After his release, just before Christmas, he would spend another 30 days under house arrest, do 150 hours of community service, reimburse Smoothie King, and remain on supervised probation for three years.
“The benefit to you was so minimal it makes me wonder whether you have any idea what money is all about,” Savage said. “I don’t understand why you would do this for only $35. . . . I don’t expect to see you again, Mr. Lazear. Please don’t make the mistake of violating your probation.”
If he does, the judge can put him in jail for the full ten years.
Eight months and 15 days after Pat Lazear did what all involved acknowledge was a dumb thing, this part of the story had reached an end. He would go directly to county jail.
Lazear leaned over, took his shoes off, and put them in a black bag. His lawyer, Paul Kemp, handed the bag to the boy’s father. Pat Lazear then undid his navy tie, handed it to his mother, and put on the sneakers they had brought along. Deputies escorted Lazear to a holding cell. Pat’s parents and his older brother, Tyler, walked out of the courtroom, waving off the press.
In December, Lazear graduated early from Wheaton High School. By early February, he had the ankle-monitoring device removed and was free to drive and go where he pleased. On February 16, he signed a letter of intent committing to attend West Virginia University. His 3.7 grade-point average had put him on the honor roll. He was ranked number three among Rivals.com’s top 15 Maryland football players.
WVU coaches issued a press release stating they had researched the Smoothie King incident and were “reassured that Pat Lazear will be a successful student athlete.”
The legal aspects of the Smoothie King case are over. College is still on the horizon for all of the teenagers. But one violation of probation, one mistake, could land any but Tommy Ashley—who was treated as a juvenile—back in court and on his way to jail.
“I think this was a big wake-up call for everyone involved,” says Rudy Moures, the boy who knew about the robbery plan but didn’t participate. “I don’t think anyone realized how serious this was or the trouble they would cause. They are going to gain a lot from this. They definitely are all going to change their ways.”
Alicia C. Shepard (aliciaATwoodwardandbernsteinDOTnet) is author of Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate. She teaches journalism at American University.