Crime

Bellingham robber recites autobiographical poem to judge, who gives him 10 years in prison

Serial armed robber at sentencing," I am here by terrible choice."

Convicted serial robber Dennis Ridley appears in Whatcom Superior Court in Bellingham Thursday morning, Feb. 9, 2017 He was sentenced to ten years in prison for five robberies in Whatcom and Skagit counties.
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Convicted serial robber Dennis Ridley appears in Whatcom Superior Court in Bellingham Thursday morning, Feb. 9, 2017 He was sentenced to ten years in prison for five robberies in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

A Bellingham man convicted of five robberies recited a poem about his addiction, his crimes and his path to recovery Thursday, before a judge sentenced him to prison.

Dennis Jeffery Ridley, 63, pleaded guilty last week to five out of six armed robberies of restaurants and cafés in Whatcom and Skagit counties. He has grown a long, white beard since he was caught on camera robbing workers at gunpoint two years ago. His plea deal suggested a sentence of 10 years.

“Shame is not diminished by denial, and guilt is not dismissed,” Ridley began at his Superior Court hearing Thursday. “I come before you and the people of the state of Washington, and I ashamed, remorseful, and guilty.”

He recited the rhyming poem from memory. Addictions to alcohol and methamphetamine, he said, were the backdrop to his crimes.

“At the age of 63 / Good and evil showed a special interest in me / A good and honest family / That wanted to help me / Out of my misery / And a mistress of insanity / Who said she knew the cure for me / A monster served with candy / And its name was methamphetamine,” Ridley said.

Starting in November 2014, a man matching his description used a gun to rob Westside Pizza, Man Pies, I Wana Moka, Zoom Zoom Espresso, Lafeen’s Donuts, and the Whatcom Farmer’s Co-op, according to charging papers. The Westside case was dismissed when a plea deal was reached in the middle of a bench trial. All of the businesses, except for that Lafeen’s location in Burlington, are in Bellingham.

Every employee described the robber as white, perhaps 50 years old, and armed with a black handgun. Charging papers say he disguised himself: first wearing a Groucho Marx mask and military boots; later, a dark hoodie and sunglasses; last, an unkempt goatee, a dark jacket and a brown baseball cap. He escaped by bicycle, or in an SUV he borrowed from his housemates south of Bellingham.

In the Man Pies robbery on Nov. 9, 2014, a police dog tracked down pairs of gloves, pants, and black shoes that had been abandoned nearby. Weeks later Ridley marched into Lafeen’s in Burlington holding a pistol at his side. He ordered employee Sara Mora to give him cash from the register. As she obeyed, she noticed him making a movement near the business phone line. Fearing he would cut the line – and fearing what might happen next, she charged at him and beat his head with a napkin holder. In a scuffle where Mora was fighting for her life, she chased Ridley out the door. He dropped his sunglasses, the money, and black socks he’d been wearing on his hands. He dropped the gun, too, but got it back before he escaped.

A crime lab found DNA on the sunglasses matched the samples from Man Pies – part of “a very good bit of police work,” said Whatcom County Prosecutor Dave McEachran on Thursday. That cracked the case, along with a tip when the Lafeen’s security footage aired on Washington’s Most Wanted. The footage showed Mora pulling down the man’s hoodie, and a viewer called in a tip that the suspect looked like Ridley. Police found Ridley had been staying with a couple on Chuckanut Drive, but he moved back to California as the investigation unfolded.

At first he confessed to the Lafeen’s robbery, but no others. He tried to plead guilty to that case at his first appearance in a Skagit County courtroom, but the judge would not allow him to, because it could be a violation of his rights. A change of venue moved the Skagit robbery to Whatcom County, as part of the larger case.

The prosecutor noted that many of the employees quit their jobs after the incidents – Ridley ordered them at gunpoint to get down on the floor during the robberies.

“Often we know when that happens, there can be an execution of people,” McEachran said. “So this was terrifying.”

Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett approved the 10-year sentence suggested by the prosecutor and the deputy public defender, Darrin Hall.

On a LinkedIn profile Ridley is listed as an independent writer. Two poems under his name are posted on poetry.com, a site where users review each other’s work. In the poem he read in court, Ridley said he hopes to be a good example to others in prison.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

Full statement from Dennis Ridley

I’m here by terrible choice,

Not by chance,

Or any circumstance.

I’ve been a drunk who drinks alone,

Living in deluded tranquility,

Hiding in transparent secrecy.

At the age of 63,

Good and evil showed a special interest in me:

A good and honest family

That wanted to help me

Out of my misery;

And a mistress of insanity,

Who said she knew the cure for me,

A monster served with candy

And its name was methamphetamine.

Now, for all the woe in me,

I have salvation and immortal spirituality.

I have true friends and many family,

Who love and care very much about me.

And I have sobriety,

Because in a miracle,

I was guided by angels into and through a program

Called Moral Reconation Therapy,

And I have the tools of MRT

To keep me sober and drug free,

Wherever I may be,

And I have you,

To prescribe my remedy.

And I wonder if any good

Can come of this mess, this tragedy.

And I think that there is a chance,

A long shot, that by example and deterrence,

I may help someone who I will never meet,

And through incarceration,

Perhaps a few of those I do.

I do not argue diminished capacity,

But it is a fact that alcohol

With methamphetamine

Is a recipe for insanity.

So, for the people,

In the interest of justice,

For the purpose of punishment,

And the hope for some closure,

I pray for success.

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