YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Jurors this afternoon split the verdict against the getaway driver in a brazen $900,000 Wyckoff jewelry store robbery but convicted him of enough of the 16 charges that he’ll face anywhere from 30 to 50 years in prison.
Adrian C. Hicken expressed no visual reaction as the verdicts were read acquitting him of armed robbery but convicting him of five counts of robbery, five counts of imprisonment and five counts of weapons possession.
Defense attorney Diane D’Alessandro said he’ll appeal.
In their verdict, reached after a combined day’s worth of deliberations, jurors distinguished between the actions of Hicken and the three men who entered Hartgers Jewelers in April 2011 and smashed cases with sledgehammers, grabbed valuable watches, and pushed around customers and store employees before jumping into the waiting Chevy Tahoe.
A chase followed in which the truck, with Hicken at the wheel, rammed two police cruisers.
As a result, jurors convicted Hicken of eluding police, resisting arrest and creating “a risk of death or injury” during the escape attempt along local roads and highways during the pursuit, which scattered cars out of the way in all directions.
Prosecutors offered Hicken a flat 15-year term in exchange for a guilty plea. He chose a trial instead.
He now will remain in the Bergen County Jail until Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Roma sentences him on June 28. Consecutive sentence are likely — which could put Hicken behind bars for nearly twice the plea offer.
The three other defendants in the case have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
Senior Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Kenneth Ralph told jurors in closing arguments yesterday that Hicken was just as guilty of armed robbery as they were.
D’Alessandro, meanwhile, portrayed her client as “threatened and afraid” after being duped by a member of the holdup crew into being the wheelman.
Ralph recreated the crime during yesterday’s closings, showing jurors interior and exterior surveillance video from the shop, while insisting that Hicken bears what under state law is known as “collective responsibility” for the heist — even though he never entered the store.
“They were there to do this crime,” Ralph said. “Mr. Hicken was there to help them.”
To drive home his point, he showed how Hicken pulled a maroon Chevy Tahoe behind the store while the others got out, donned masks, hoods and gloves and then followed a point man after he was buzzed in.
As soon as they were inside, the video shows, Hicken moved the vehicle into an area out of sight of passersby.
Meanwhile, the crew smashed glass cases with a long-handled sledgehammer, shoved two customers to the floor, and dragged co-owner Gregg Hartgers across the room when he tried to get to a phone, Ralph said.
After throwing 86 high-end Rolex watches and 27 rings into two pillowcases, they bolted out of the store — and straight to where Hicken had moved the truck, the assistant prosecutor said.
Ralph followed with video from police cruisers that showed the speed and potential danger of a subsequent car chase along Route 208 and through side streets, with drivers hurriedly moving their vehicles out of the way.
The Tahoe eventually hit two police cars before Hicken and his three associates bailed out. The others ran while Hicken, at well over 300 pounds, tried to tip away, Ralph said.
Ridgewood Police Officer Patrick Elwood, who’d climbed a ridge overlooking the neighborhood, spotted Hicken and arrested him, the assistant prosecutor told jurors.
“I hit the police car to stop,” he told Elwood, according to Ralph.
“Would three men hire him on the spur of the moment to be their driver without his knowledge, relying on an ‘unwitting participant’ to wait outside alone while they went into the store, and to be there when they come out?” he asked jurors.
D’Alessandro, in turn said her client “was afraid of the three robbers, and then he was frightened by the police. He has no prior criminal record, and he’s engaged to be married.”
Hicken testified last week, telling jurors that he was hired by one of the three men to drive to Wyckoff and didn’t know anything about the planned holdup.
He said the trio threatened him with a knife during the chase, causing the vehicle to swerve and hit other cars.
His fiance also testified on his behalf.
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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