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Man Gets 5 to 12 Years for Robberies in Three Counties

August 3, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Antonetta Stancu, 215.348.6340, astancu@buckscounty.org

Peter Harkins
   Peter J. Harkins III

A Phoenixville man who robbed businesses in three counties last fall – once using a banana wrapped to resemble a gun – was sentenced Thursday to serve five to 12 years in state prison.

Peter James Harkins III, 41, pleaded guilty to the robberies on May 30 in Bucks County Common Pleas Court. He admitted robbing a Pizza Hut in Phoenixville, Chester County; a Domino’s Pizza in Willow Grove, Montgomery County; and a Santander Bank branch in Bensalem over a three-day span in October.

The sentence marked the second time Harkins was sent to state prison for robbery. In 2006 he received concurrent one- to two-year sentences for two robberies in Montgomery County.

Harkins’ “behavior has now escalated,” said Deputy District Attorney Antonetta Stancu, who prosecuted the case. “The court should consider not only the escalation of the conduct, but the number of incidents and the severity of the conduct.”

Harkins blamed substance abuse for his crimes, past and present.

“I grew up in recovery,” he told Bucks County President Judge Jeffrey L. Finley, recalling attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with his father at the age of 3.

“When I put alcohol or a drug in my body, this is what happens,” Harkins said. “It was three days, just a really bad binge.”

On Oct. 29, Harkins robbed the Pizza Hut on Nutt Road in Phoenixville of more than $200 by pointing his covered hand at an employee, who believed he had a gun.

On Oct. 30, Harkins again wrapped an object in his hand, pointed it at a Domino’s Pizza employee on Easton Road in Willow Grove, and departed with $99.51.

On Oct. 31, Harkins robbed the Santander Bank brand at 1425 Street Road in Bensalem, demanding cash and pointing what the bank teller believed was a wrapped gun. He handed the teller a shopping bag that she filled with cash, repeatedly telling her, “Keep going … quick.”

A week later, after being arrested, Harkins told detectives he had used the stolen money to buy drugs, saying he was using cocaine and methamphetamine. He denied using a gun in any of the robberies, saying he used a ratchet strap handle or a banana he had bought at a convenience store, covering them to look like a weapon.

Harkins told Finley that he had been sober for years, working a good job and purchasing a house before relapsing back into alcohol and drugs.

“Robbery is a violent act, but he is not a violent person,” defense attorney William E. Moore argued. “That’s why he used a banana and a ratchet handle.”

Moore called the robberies “impulsive,” adding, “Once he starts drinking or using drugs, he becomes a danger to society.”

Stancu countered that the robbery victims, “who were people just doing their jobs,” had no idea whether Harkins had a gun or not. She said robberies committed on separate days can hardly be called impulsive, and that Harkins’ prior record merited a harsher sentence this time.

Finley agreed.

“Yes, you didn’t have a gun,” he told Harkins. “You are not being sentenced for that, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that you terrorized these people.”

In addition, the judge said, criminal defendants “are required to learn from their mistakes. You do it again, and the punishment should be greater.”

The judge expressed dismay that Harkins, whose family and friends packed one side of the courtroom, never reached out to them when he began his downward spiral.

The judge imposed concurrent sentences of five to 12 years for each robbery, ordered Harkins to have no contact with his victims, and recommended that he be imprisoned in a therapeutic community to help treat his addiction issues.

“I’m not judging you as a bad or evil person,” Finley said, “but you can be, and you have been, a danger to the community.”

The case was investigated by the Bensalem Township Police Department, the Phoenixville Police Department, and the Upper Moreland Township Police Department.

Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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