BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — DANVERS — A Salem Superior Court judge tried to reassure a mother on Monday that she did the right thing by calling police when she recognized her son in a surveillance photo following a bank robbery in Danvers last fall.
“I’m sure you feel bad that you turned him in,” Judge Howard Whitehead told Steven Cerqueira’s teary-eyed mother, seated in a courtroom gallery. “But it was the right thing to do.”
The judge said the woman may have saved the life of her son, a heroin addict.
“He could have been shot by police, or he could have shot or stabbed someone,” said the judge, who had just sentenced Cerqueira, 30, of Lowell, to four to 41/2 years in state prison.
During the Nov. 27 holdup at a Citizens Bank branch inside Stop & Shop on Route 1 in Danvers, Cerqueira told a teller, “Don’t make any noise. I have a gun pointing at you. Give me all the money.”
The teller gave him $1,630, prosecutor Meg Morrissey told the judge.
But as he fled, a dye pack exploded, and he dropped much of the money, police said at the time.
His mother told police she was worried that her son was in danger because of his addiction when she spoke to police on Dec. 6, Morrissey told the judge.
Cerqueira pleaded guilty to charges of armed robbery and felony larceny during Monday’s hearing.
Prosecutor Christina Ronan wanted the judge to impose a six-to-eight-year prison term, largely due to Cerqueira’s record, which includes prior robbery convictions, including one for an unarmed 2004 holdup at the Eastern Bank on Margin Street that netted more than $8,000.
Cerqueira used the proceeds of that 2004 holdup to purchase a new car, telling friends he’d won the Lottery. They believed him until his image, from a surveillance video, appeared in The Salem News.
Mark Schmidt, Cerqueira’s attorney, urged the judge to impose less time, suggesting two years.
Schmidt said his client had tried to turn his life around after his most recent prison term, but, left to his own devices, relapsed after a breakup.
In this case, however, he will be on supervised probation after his release from prison, the judge ordered, with conditions that include drug and mental health evaluations and treatment, random drug tests and a requirement that he hold a job.
After the judge told Cerqueira what his sentence will be, Cerqueira thanked him.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.