EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 10, 2013

Holdup plea nearly goes up in smoke

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM, Mass. — A New Hampshire man’s plea agreement with prosecutors to a violent armed robbery in Lawrence last year was almost yanked off the table yesterday after he asked for one change.

Jody Burtsell, 44, of Nashua, wanted Salem Superior Court Judge John Lu to allow him to use medical marijuana once he’s released from his four-year prison term for armed robbery and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

That would be an exception to the probation condition barring him from using drugs, a condition that was negotiated between his lawyer and a prosecutor.

“He’s welcome to withdraw his plea and go to trial,” Lu responded.

The judge said that he’s received a number of dubious requests for permission to use prescription drugs, such as painkillers prescribed after dental work, which he views as a way for defendants to avoid drug-testing requirements.

Burtsell was identified as one of two men who went into the City Mart on Haverhill Street in Lawrence on July 31 last year and beat and robbed the owner, Nazir Shaikh. He was arrested after surveillance video from the store was posted on the website of the Eagle-Tribune, a sister paper to The Salem News, prosecutor Greg Friedholm told the judge yesterday.

Burtsell appeared to be the leader, jamming a piece of metal in the door after he and the second man were “buzzed” into the store. He vaulted the counter and waved what investigators later determined to be a pellet gun, which he used to strike the owner, while the other man took $300 to $400 from the register.

Police received a tip about Burtsell’s identity after the video was posted.

The second man seen on the tape, identified by police as Jered Hayes, 23, also of Nashua, was not indicted, according to court records. He can be seen on the tape at one point raising his hands as if questioning what Burtsell was doing, while Burtsell was striking the victim on the floor.

Under the plea agreement, Burtsell received a four-year prison sentence, to be followed by two years of probation, with conditions that include no use of drugs.

But Anne Poulos, who represents Burtsell, told the judge that with the recent legalization of medical marijuana in New Hampshire, her client wanted marijuana to be excluded from the “no drugs” requirement. Poulos did not cite any medical condition that might qualify Burtsell to receive the drug.

The judge told Burtsell that after he gets out of prison, if he believes he can convince a judge that he has no option but to use medical marijuana, he’s welcome to try his request again then.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.