Crime

Teen not guilty of robbery, burglary at Bellingham senior’s home

A young man was acquitted of the most serious charges related to a break-in that terrified an elderly Bellingham woman in December 2014.

After a four-day trial, a jury found Matthew Chandler Plowman, 20, of Bellingham, not guilty of first-degree robbery and first-degree burglary for what the victim, a 72-year-old woman, described as a random attack at her mobile home in the 1200 block of Lincoln Street.

Plowman was convicted of three other felonies — possession of methamphetamine, malicious mischief in the second degree, and bail jumping — and two misdemeanors for assault in the fourth degree and theft in the third degree. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail for those crimes Wednesday, Jan. 20.

Jurors weren’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Matthew Plowman’s intent was to commit a burglary or a robbery, as defined by state law, attorneys said.

The woman had gone outside around 3 a.m. on a Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014, to pick up her morning newspaper when she saw a 5-foot-11 teenage stranger coming toward her. She retreated into her home and locked the door. The stranger, Plowman, banged on the door and yelled at the woman to open up and help him, according to charging papers. He told her to call 911. The woman dialed the number but forgot to hit the send button.

Plowman tried to open a window, but it was locked. So he grabbed a patio chair and threw it through glass and crawled inside. The woman, who uses oxygen tanks to breathe, struggled to cry for help.

Once inside, Plowman told the woman again to call 911. Charging papers say he grabbed a knife from the kitchen and “stormed” through the house.

The woman feared she would die.

Plowman was bleeding from apparently self-inflicted wounds. At one point, he grabbed the woman’s wrist and bled on her. He told her to give him the phone. She did. She turned away and felt something strike her back. At first she believed she had been stabbed. She later told police she must have been punched.

The woman fled to a neighbor’s house to call 911, as Plowman tried to figure out the phone. Police arrived and saw Plowman jumping out the window, holding a knife. He was arrested.

Officers kicked down the dead-bolted front door to find shattered glass from the windows, a broken flat-screen TV, and bloodstains “all over” the carpet, according to the charges.

That night Plowman was high on drugs. At the hospital after his arrest, one of Plowman’s socks was removed, and a baggie of meth fell out.

He posted $45,000 bond in January, then failed to show up for court dates.

Closing arguments in his trial were held earlier this month, on Jan. 11. The jury deliberated for about four hours before returning with a verdict.

The jurors weren’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Plowman’s intent was to commit a burglary or a robbery, as defined by state law, said both the deputy prosecutor, Shannon Connor, and Plowman’s defense attorney, Todd Anderson.

The defense argued that Plowman had legitimately been seeking help. Anderson pointed out that the woman was not assaulted with a knife.

The victim, now 74, has since moved away from Bellingham. She lives on the fourth story at her new home, Connor said, because she no longer feels safe living on the ground floor. The woman testified at trial, but did not make the trip to Bellingham for Plowman’s sentencing. She expressed her disappointment in the verdict in a letter to the judge.

“It bothers me so much that I wasn’t believed,” she wrote, “because I am so ardently truthful.”

What happened on this night is the sort of thing which makes everyone who is a law-abiding citizen fearful to go about their daily business, or to be in their home.

Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder

Plowman turned 20 years old on Wednesday. At the hearing, he apologized for his actions in a two-minute address to Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder.

“That night,” Plowman said, “I go over that night a lot, in my head, and it was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life. And I think about this 74-year-old woman all the time, and what I’ve done to her, and how she feels about it, and I put myself in her shoes. If I was her, I’d be saying the same thing.”

Plowman said he plans to get drug treatment, stay sober, and become a commercial diver.

“Mr. Plowman says he goes over this over and over again; I imagine that’s the one thing you share with the victim in this case,” Snyder said. “Every time she goes over it, she relives all of that fear. You relive the confusion. That’s different. That’s qualitatively different.”

The judge continued: “What happened on this night is the sort of thing which makes everyone who is a law-abiding citizen fearful to go about their daily business, or to be in their home, and to be in their home with some level of safety.”

Other than a negligent driving conviction, Plowman had no criminal history. So for the most serious felony, bail jumping, state law suggests up to one year in jail.

Snyder handed down the maximum sentence, and ruled that Plowman can serve the final two months of his term in drug rehab.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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