DANVERS — When Danvers police showed Frank Colella a surveillance photo from Target that appeared to show him stealing pricey tablet computers from a display case last January, Colella responded by telling the detectives, “Wow, that’s a really good picture of me. Can I have it?”
It was probably not the smartest thing for the 47-year-old Lynn man to say at the time.
Despite his insisting later on during the interrogation that, “I’m a comedian” and he was just kidding about being in the photo, a Salem Superior Court jury yesterday found Colella guilty of armed robbery.
He faces up to life in prison when he’s sentenced next month.
Back on Jan. 28, Colella went into the Target at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers and headed for the electronics department. He spent about 20 minutes near a pair of glass cases, one containing iPods and the other filled with tablet computers. Both cases were locked.
Prosecutor Jessica Strasnick showed jurors a surveillance video that showed Colella crouching down and then lifting the glass out of the metal track it was on. That allowed him to reach into the case and grab five or six tablets, which he put into a plastic Target shopping bag. Colella then left the store, walking around the electronic sensors at the door.
All the while, a store security guard was watching on a monitor. He ran out after Colella and caught up with him in the parking lot.
Or did he?
Defense lawyer Carmine Lepore argued to jurors that police charged the wrong man, citing a police report that indicated the suspect they were looking for appeared to have been speaking Spanish to the guard at first and was described in a police report as “Hispanic” and about 150 pounds.
Colella, Lepore argued, does not resemble that description, and doesn’t speak Spanish.
But jurors found that it was Colella who put up a fight in the parking lot, struggling with the security guard and then warning, “I have a knife.”
That statement by Colella took the case from a basic larceny to armed robbery, a potential life felony.
As Colella fled, the guard managed to grab a part of the bag, which tore open. Most of the stolen tablets fell on the ground and were recovered. Colella got away.
Jurors did wonder in one question to the judge why police hadn’t fingerprinted those computers. And they were curious about how police came to suspect Colella, information they weren’t given because it would have revealed his involvement in other cases, which was how law enforcement officers recognized him in the surveillance photo that was distributed after the incident.
But minutes after asking those questions, and being told that they could work only with the evidence presented in court, the jury returned with a guilty verdict.
Colella’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 2.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.