BRATTLEBORO -- A homeless man accused of robbing two people at knifepoint in Brattleboro was arrested a few blocks away with the victims' credit cards stashed under his sweatshirt, police said Friday.
Christopher McKenzie, 34, pleaded not guilty in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division to two felony counts of larceny from a person.
He remained jailed in lieu of $10,000 bail, with Judge John Wesley saying McKenzie poses a "significant risk of flight" from prosecution.
"His ties to the local area -- to anything in this community -- appear minimal at best," Wesley said.
Brattleboro police said they received a report Thursday evening that a man had demanded money from a woman as she walked home from the downtown area. She sprayed him with mace, and he fled, police said.
Then a couple reported that they had been robbed at about 2:45 a.m. Friday as they walked on Frost Street. The man told police that "someone was following them on Flat Street as they neared Dottie's Discount Foods," police wrote in a court affidavit.
After declaring that he was not following the couple, "this individual proceeded to walk abreast with him and his girlfriend for approximately a block while making ‘small talk,'" police said.
After briefly backing away, the suspect again approached the couple, this time brandishing a knife with a short blade and demanding their wallets, investigators said. Both victims handed over their wallets.
The suspect "then began walking away, looking back at them and saying ‘keep walking,'" police said.
As Brattleboro police Officer Joshua Lynde was about to respond to the Frost Street robbery, a man who fit the description of the robber walked by him in the Harmony Lot between Elliot and High streets.
That was McKenzie, who told Lynde he was going to the shelter. The suspect allowed Lynde to search him, and "several credit-card-sized cards came out from under the male's sweatshirt," Lynde wrote in an affidavit.
Those cards belonged to the robbery victims, who identified McKenzie as the robber a short time later, police said. Lynde said he also found a small Swiss Army knife in McKenzie's pocket.
McKenzie later admitted to the robbery but maintains he did not show a knife, police said.
At his arraignment Friday afternoon, McKenzie told Wesley that he had been staying at the Overflow Shelter in Brattleboro.
His attorney, Richard Ammons, asked that McKenzie be released without bail. He said McKenzie is a Windsor native who also has lived in Bellows Falls and Brattleboro.
"I would submit that his ties (to this area) are significant," Ammons said.
He also said McKenzie recently began taking medication for depression.
"My client has indicated to me that he's struggled a little bit," Ammons said.
At McKenzie's request, Ammons told Wesley that his client has a 15-month-old daughter and a pregnant fiancée who rely on him for support.
Wesley, however, noted that McKenzie had reported in his application for a public defender that he's had no income during the past 12 months, no assets or expenses and no employer.
In addition to imposing the $10,000 bail, Wesley also ordered that McKenzie report daily to Brattleboro police if he is released from jail.
There have been no charges filed in connection with the Thursday-evening police report of a man who demanded money and was sprayed with mace.
Steven Brown, Windham County deputy state's attorney, said there is a possibility that additional charges will be filed against McKenzie in connection with the Brattleboro incident.
McKenzie has a criminal record that includes two felony convictions. In 2009, he received a suspended sentence of one to three years in prison for grand larceny. He had been charged by Hartford police.
In 1997, he was convicted of burglary and sentenced to serve 18 months to three years in prison in a Windsor case.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.