SALEM — Raymond Wallace was just months from wrapping up his parole for a 2001 burglary and firearms conviction when police cornered him at gunpoint outside his rented Salem condo last week.
Now, Wallace, 34, is being held on $1 million cash bail, charged with the armed and masked holdup of the PetSmart on Highland Avenue last Wednesday. He is a suspect in at least three other similar incidents in the area, including the holdups of a Borders Books and Music in Peabody on Dec. 23 and a holdup at Shaws in Salem Sept. 15, as well as another incident in Swampscott.
Wallace pleaded not guilty yesterday during his arraignment in Salem District Court. The charges against him, besides armed robbery while masked, include two counts of carrying a gun without a license, two counts of possessing guns with defaced serial numbers, receiving a stolen vehicle, burning a vehicle, use of a firearm by a felon, use of body armor in commission of a felony and illegal possession of ammunition.
If convicted, he is facing a mandatory life term in prison, prosecutor A.J. Camelio told Judge Sabita Singh.
And even if he could come up with that kind of cash, he's being held on warrants both for violating his parole and his probation in an earlier case.
Investigators believe Wallace was back to the life of crime that was interrupted when he was sentenced to six to 10 years in state prison for a burglary at a Waltham farm stand in 2001. Police then found a cache of high-powered weapons, and Wallace was masked and wearing a ninja-style outfit. He served eight years before being paroled in 2009.
In last week's holdup, he donned a green windbreaker and a rubber mask similar to the ones worn by bank robbers in the movie "The Town," a mask found in the trunk of a rented car after Wallace's arrest.
That's not all they found, Camelio told the judge. In the trunk of a car rented by Wallace, police found a bag containing $1,800 cash, two guns, one believed used in the holdup; a bulletproof vest, a police tactical vest and other black clothing with the word "police" on it; a police scanner tuned to the Salem police frequency, zip tie handcuffs, a light that flashed red, white and blue, pepper spray, ammunition and bolt cutters.
A 48-year-old store employee told police that he had just locked up for the night and was walking to his car when a blue Chrysler PT Cruiser pulled up. The driver was wearing the rubber mask, a green windbreaker and a hood, and holding a black semi-automatic handgun.
He ordered the clerk to "turn around and go back inside," then marched him back to the store with a gun to his back. The robber ordered the clerk to turn off the alarm and then ordered him to fill a green bag with cash. The clerk complied.
Police say Wallace then ordered the clerk to open a drop box, but the clerk said he did not have a key. Wallace then ordered him to stay in the office as he fled.
That PT Cruiser was found burning on Technology Way, off Swampscott Road — the same location where a car used in the December Borders holdup was also found.
Police, who suspected Wallace, staked out his home. They also called Wallace's parole officer, who has been active in keeping track of Wallace. The parole officer had recently implemented a 10 p.m. curfew after learning that Wallace was being spotted by area police out late at night.
Salem police credited that parole officer with helping break the case by getting an arrest warrant for Wallace immediately.
During his arraignment, a lawyer for Wallace said his client has been studying at the Porter and Chester Institute in Waltham to become an electrician, and had worked recently as a car salesman for a Herb Chambers dealership.
Police are now questioning just why someone with a lengthy criminal record, who likely would be unable to obtain a license, would be going to the effort of taking courses in electrical work.
Salem police Lt. Conrad Prosniewski, a spokesman for the department, said the investigating officers at the scene deserve praise for arresting Wallace without anyone getting hurt.
"They did a great job of executing this without anybody getting hurt," said Prosniewski, who said everyone had the recent shooting of a veteran Woburn police officer last December on their minds as the arrest unfolded. "We're fortunate that everyone went home that night."
A probable cause hearing was scheduled for April 22, but Camelio told the judge that he is preparing to present the case to a grand jury for indictment, which would move the case to Salem Superior Court.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or at email@example.com.