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Lakewood Drugs robber pleads guilty, is released

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Posted: Monday, September 18, 2006 10:00 pm

A Lodi man accused of robbing Lakewood Drugs at gunpoint and demanding prescription narcotics pleaded guilty Monday and was sentenced to six months in jail.

Paul Mueller

Paul Mueller, 24, received credit for 40 days already spent in jail, and Judge David Warner suspended a two-year prison sentence, telling Mueller that if he violates his five years of probation he could then go to prison.

For pharmacist Dennis McComb, the sentence seemed mild - especially since the female employee who found herself on the floor with a gun to her head has not returned to work since the robbery.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "We were hoping it would be a stronger sentence and send a louder message that if you do the crime, you do the time."

On the morning of Aug. 8, employees at the Ham Lane drug store hadn't opened for business yet. They were getting ready for the day and had propped open a back door to take out the trash, and the next thing the female employee knew, a gun was being pointed at her head.

The man demanded "Schedule II" drugs, a reference to prescription narcotics. The petite employee later told the News-Sentinel that she thought she was going to die there on the floor, but that she could do nothing because the pharmacy hadn't yet received its shipment of the drugs.

The man ultimately left the store empty-handed, and a witness saw someone riding away on a yellow motorcycle. Lodi police began running vehicle and record checks, and the next day arrested Mueller at his grandmother's home, where his yellow motorcycle was parked in the driveway.

Only then did they learn that the gun was apparently a replica.

Mueller also had an unrelated felony charge of possessing oxycodone, one of the drugs included in Schedule II. He also pleaded guilty Monday to that charge and was fined $996 and was ordered to register as a narcotics offender. Mueller also pleaded guilty to separate charges of speeding and driving without a license.

He was released from the San Joaquin County Jail later Monday and must either qualify for an alternative jail work program or begin serving the remainder of his time by Oct. 16. Officers may search him at any time, he was fined $392.75 for the attempted robbery conviction and $996 for the drug conviction, and he must stay 250 yards away from Lakewood Drugs.

Additionally, the conviction would be considered Mueller's first strike under California's three-strikes law, meaning that a future violent felony conviction could double the sentence.

Lakewood Drug employees praised the police's work on the case, but McComb said he had hoped the justice system would give Mueller a stiffer sentence.

"An attempt is just like the real thing, when you've got what you think is a real gun pointed at your head," he said.

"We have somebody who can't even return to work because of the trauma. … "I think it's sad that one person gets to move on and the other one doesn't."

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

First published: Tuesday, September 19, 2006

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