By Doug Ireland
---- — BRENTWOOD — Clint Pickering told the judge that when he pulled into the parking lot of a Windham gas station, he didn’t know his friend Patrick McKeen was planning to rob a bank.
So when McKeen returned minutes later and told him to quickly drive off, the Epsom man said he just did what he was told to do.
Pickering, an admitted drug addict suffering from mental illness, said he didn’t fully realize what was going on when he sped out of the Mobil station parking lot Sept. 18, 2009.
As Pickering spoke yesterday, Windham police Officer Jason Dzierlatka sat in the front row of the courtroom at Rockingham Superior Court.
At times, Dzierlatka looked down, using a finger to trace the outline of a long, jagged scar on his forearm.
Pickering was sentenced yesterday to serve 10 1/2 to 21 years in prison for striking Dzierlatka with his car as he and McKeen fled the robbery at the Bank of New England three years ago. Pickering already is serving 11 years in federal prison in Florida for his role as the getaway driver.
Pickering stood before Judge N. William Delker and said he was sorry for what happened, and wished he could trade places with Dzierlatka.
“I’m sorry for Officer Dzierlatka, who has a scar that reminds him of this every day,” Pickering said.
Dzierlatka returned to the Windham police force in May after missing more than two and half years of work. He also fractured his leg and ankle.
The officer held up his arm and showed the scar as he read a statement in court, saying how the accident forever changed his life.
He said his wife was nine months pregnant at the time of the accident and the was unable to help her when she needed him most.
“What Clint Pickering did that day was unacceptable at every level,” Dzierlatka said. “I will no longer enjoy the activities I once did. It also left me with emotional scars and significant monetary loss.”
Dzierlatka recommended Pickering spend years in prison to prevent him from hurting anyone else.
Earlier, Pickering told the judge he was a victim of mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse. He also said he wasn’t receiving proper treatment, despite his pleas for help. Pickering said he was afraid he would hurt someone else if he didn’t receive the treatment he needed.
He has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for theft, larceny, drug possession and possession of a dangerous weapon (knives).
Dzierlatka and prosecutor Bradley Bolton said Pickering posed a threat to others.
“My concern is he needs to do this time because outside isn’t working,” Dzierlatka said. “He needs to be put away.”
Bolton recommended Pickering serve an additional 17 1/2 to 35 years in prison.
A jury found Pickering guilty in October of three reckless conduct charges and single charges of second-degree assault, conduct after an accident and disobeying a police officer with serious bodily injury resulting. He faced a maximum of 21 to 42 years in prison on the six felony charges.
Pickering also was convicted on two misdemeanor charges of disobeying a police officer, but found not guilty on two felony criminal threatening charges.
McKeen, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, is serving 10 years in prison for his role in the case.
He walked into the Windham bank about 4:30 p.m. that day and demanded money from a teller. He received $865, got into the green Dodge Avenger driven by Pickering and they sped off.
Police began pursuing the car when Windham Officer Scott Rogers saw the vehicle head down Route 111. Rogers commandeered a civilian vehicle and began pursuit.
More officers joined the chase as Pickering turned on to Interstate 93. Pickering allegedly swerved at and hit Dzierlatka while trying to avoid a tire-deflation device the officer placed on the highway. With two tires deflated, Pickering continued down I-93 south at speeds of about 90 mph.
Pickering and McKeen eventually abandoned the car in Dracut, where they were tackled and shot with Tasers by New Hampshire State Police and Salem police.
Pickering dived into a river to escape police, Bolton said.
Several of Pickering’s friends and family members attended the sentencing, including his girlfriend, mother, stepfather and four siblings.
Pickering’s mother, Eva, held up a photo of her son and fought back tears, saying an extended prison sentence would be harmful to her son.
Pickering’s girlfriend, Kori Karamanoogian, said drug use and the criminal justice system were to blame for his crimes.
“I truly believe that if he got the help he needed — that he was told he was going to get — he wouldn’t be here right now,” she said.
Family members declined to comment on Pickering’s sentence.
Defense attorney Neil Reardon said he thought his client was being sentenced for the same crimes twice.