DNA may link suspect in robberies in Lake Stevens

LAKE STEVENS — The quick smoke might have calmed his nerves.

It also might have sealed his fate.

In May, a botched robbery was reported at a pharmacy in Lake Stevens. Among other evidence, detectives found a cigarette butt resting on a garbage can outside the store.

They worked the case, and in November, a Lake Stevens man, Benjamin I.G. Roy, 25, pleaded guilty.

Days after Roy was sentenced, though, additional laboratory test results came back on the cigarette.

There was a twist. One robbery had yielded a clue to another.

The Chase Bank along Market Place was robbed Nov. 29, 2011.

A man walked into the bank just before 5 p.m., according to court papers. He wore a zipped-up black hoodie-style sweatshirt and a gray bandana over his face.

He told the teller he had a gun. She believed him. He was waving around something wrapped in black plastic. He ran away with $3,000.

That night, witness statements and a police tracking dog led detectives to a grassy area nearby.

There, they found a black sweatshirt and a $100 bill. There appeared to be fresh bicycle tire tracks on the ground.

Detectives found human hair stuck to the sweatshirt. They commissioned a sketch of the suspect. They sent items to the state crime lab for genetic testing.

Hours later, the detectives went back to the scene, to look again for evidence in the daylight. They found a black plastic bag with a hose nozzle inside. It was shaped like a handgun. They collected those items, too.

The case carried on. For a long time, there were no fresh leads.

On May 31, 2012, an attempted robbery was reported at the Rite-Aid along 91st Ave NE.

A man came to the pharmacy counter and asked for a prescription, court papers show. He gave a false name: “Ben Raw,” according to court papers.

The pharmacy clerk couldn’t find the name in the system. The man then passed her a note. It read, “I have a gun.” He demanded pain killers.

Another pharmacy employee came to the counter. The man again asked for pain killers. As the employee turned toward the safe, the man apparently lost his nerve and walked out of the store.

Police collected surveillance video from the scene. It showed the attempted robbery, the note being passed over and the suspect pedaling away on a bicycle toward Market Place.

Detectives shared images from the video with the public, hoping for tips.

About a dozen calls came in, Lake Stevens police detective Jerad Wachtveitl said. Roughly half of the callers gave Roy’s name.

People who knew Roy reportedly told police he was addicted to prescription pain killers. They said he lived near the pharmacy, that he didn’t have a car.

At the urging of his family, Roy surrendered to police on June 9, court papers show.

About a week later, Wachtveitl served a search warrant to collect Roy’s DNA.

The detective wanted to see if the sample would match that from the cigarette found outside the pharmacy.

The cigarette had caught the eye of investigators at the scene. It was resting on top of a trash can outside the door used by the suspect, Wachtveitl said. Surveillance video showed the suspect setting down the cigarette before the robbery.

“It was out of place,” Wachtveitl said. “It was as if he was coming back for it.”

Roy later was released, pending his next court date.

At the end of August, he was booked again.

Police reportedly found him running from a neighbor’s house after a break-in. His pockets were full of stolen jewelry and pills.

Roy in mid-November pleaded guilty to the break-in and the attempted pharmacy robbery. On Nov. 20, he was sentenced to six months at the Snohomish County Jail.

On Nov. 27, Wachtveitl got a new report from the crime lab. The DNA found on the cigarette butt and Roy’s genetic sample were a match with the odds of 1 in 33 quintillion of the DNA matching someone else, according to court papers.

The report also noted a second match: a sample collected from a black sweatshirt found after the Lake Stevens Chase Bank robbery nearly a year before.

Wachtveitl pulled that case file. The surveillance video from the bank didn’t capture enough of the robber’s face to positively identify Roy.

Wachtveitl watched it again. It certainly didn’t rule him out, either, the detective wrote in court papers.

On Dec. 10, Wachtveitl served another search warrant for Roy’s DNA.

For the Chase Bank case, he needs to show an independent match between Roy and the sweatshirt — in other words, a separate test.

Roy remains jailed. Wachtveitl again is waiting on laboratory results. He’s not sure when he’ll wrap up the case and forward it to prosecutors.

He expects to recommend charges of first-degree robbery.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Recent Lake Stevens robberies

Bank robberies are rare in Lake Stevens, according to police department data.

As of Nov. 30, the city reported 15 robberies altogether, six of which happened between people, on an individual level. The others were reported as follows: three espresso stands, two banks, one gas station, one fast-food restaurant and two other unnamed businesses.

View Lake Stevens robberies in a larger map

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