BRATTLEBORO -- Standing in a Brattleboro courtroom Friday morning, Shawn Arguin assessed his life succinctly: "I can't function in this society. I belong in prison. I'm sorry."
Judge David Suntag agreed, sentencing the former Jacksonville, Fla., man to 46 months to 12 years in prison for walking into a Brattleboro bank last summer, demanding money, then sitting down and asking to be arrested.
In February, Arguin was convicted by a jury in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division of false pretenses and false public alarms. He was acquitted on two felony larceny counts, but prosecutors and bank employees have made it clear that they don't see the offense as any less serious because of that.
"He didn't walk out the door with money from Key Bank," branch Manager Joanne Sprague said in court Friday. "But he did rob Key Bank. He robbed the employees of their sense of security."
Arguin entered Key Bank on Main Street just before 10 a.m. on July 19. He lingered in the lobby, and a teller asked him what he needed. According to testimony at trial, Arguin's response was, "No, you can't help me. I'm robbing you."
Arguin asked for $100 and $50 bills; the teller also retrieved two stacks of $20s. Arguin took the $20 bundles -- equaling about $4,000 -- and asked the teller to call police.
As Brattleboro officers staged outside the bank with guns drawn, Arguin sat down in the bank lobby. When Sprague entered the lobby, Arguin insisted that she take the cash.
It just so happened that a retired Brattleboro police officer had entered the bank as a customer. Arguin asked him whether he was a cop, and the retired officer led the suspect outside, where he was arrested.
At trial, defense attorney Chris Montgomery did not dispute the basic facts of the case. But he argued that his client could not be convicted of larceny because he had never intended to follow through with a robbery.
The jury apparently agreed, convicting Arguin on felony false pretenses and misdemeanor false public alarms while acquitting him on felony counts of attempted grand larceny and attempted larceny from a person.
During Friday's sentencing hearing, Montgomery again summed up the events of that morning. Arguin "gets off a bus, walks into a bank, no note, no weapon, no knife, no nothing -- no threats," Montgomery said.
Arguin had no ties to Vermont and apparently had traveled here simply to get arrested. Prior to the July 19 incident, he had held a job in Florida for about three years, said David Gartenstein, the Windham County deputy state's attorney who prosecuted the case.
"He quit and decided to come up here because (Arguin believed that) there was less population, less overcrowding in prisons, which means less violence and easier time," Gartenstein said.
He also noted, however, that this was not Arguin's first run-in with the law. In fact, Arguin was convicted of arson and served five years in prison in the 1990s, and he was in prison from 2003 to 2006 in Arizona for committing a bank robbery there.
After that, "he didn't like the relationship he was having with his probation officer out in the community, so he was put back in jail for another three years," Gartenstein said.
The prosecutor asked Suntag to impose a sentence of five to 12 years in prison, arguing that Arguin's actions matter more than his intent.
"The state's position is that there are very few crimes that create as much sense of insecurity -- and as much sense of fear in the community as a whole -- as bank robbery," Gartenstein said.
For bank employees, "the crime has individual impact on them, shattering their sense of security," he added.
Sprague came to court to emphasize that point. The incident's impacts on the young bank teller who waited on Arguin were exacerbated by the fact that he didn't immediately run from the building, she said.
"He sat there for several minutes, terrifying a 20-year-old mother of two who was pregnant at the time," Sprague said.
The events of that morning have had long-lasting effects, leaving a sense of fear and mistrust, Sprague added.
"Every single day, I'm reminded of him walking in that door," she said. "Every single day, I hear his voice saying, ‘No, she's not OK. I just robbed her.'"
Montgomery acknowledged the impact of his client's actions, but he noted that "public alarm" was the point. Somehow, he said, Arguin had "reached such a low that you think that being in jail is better than anything you can do with your life."
"We have a person who wanted to be arrested, who picked a place where it was likely that he would be arrested," Montgomery said.
Montgomery said Arguin has not been diagnosed with mental illness, though "there's clearly an issue here." He asked for a sentence of 42 months to five years, with that jail time suspended in favor of just 12 months behind bars. Arguin already has credit for nearly 10 months of time served.
Conditions of probation, Montgomery said, should include treatment for mental-health and substance-abuse issues. There was testimony on Friday that Arguin may have an alcohol problem.
After taking a short break, Suntag imposed the 46-month to 12-year sentence. He noted that the charges for which Arguin was convicted "don't normally carry with them the dynamics that we see in this case."
"Without question, this may be one of the most-serious types of false public alarms you can have," he said.
Also, false pretenses often is a property crime involving deception for financial gain, the judge said.
"The impact of that crime normally is nothing like we see here today," Suntag said.
"I agree that he didn't hit somebody, create violence and do other things you could do to get arrested," the judge added. "But it doesn't excuse what he did do to get arrested."
Suntag acknowledged that, in spite of a police investigation, a trial and a pre-sentence investigation conducted by the state Department of Corrections, there still is some confusion about what led Arguin to Key Bank that day.
"Whatever the issues are that got him to this place and got him to these places in the past have to be dealt with," Suntag said. "But they have to be dealt with by him. He has to deal with these things before creating further harm."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.