By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
---- — Joseph P. VanMeter’s wakeup call came about three years ago when his daughter was born.
He went through drug and alcohol rehabilitation and got off the cycle of taking drugs and scrapping for money to pay for more drugs.
“I became really serious about trying to turn my life around,” the 26-year-old Hartstown resident said.
The little matter of the armed robbery of a Sharon pharmacy in 2008, for which he had not been charged at the time, “I thought this was behind me,” VanMeter testified at his sentence hearing Thursday.
“I thought this was something that was going to be in my past and go away,” he said. “Things have a way of coming back around.”
Things came back around in January 2012 when a friend of Aaron M. Bradley came forward and told police that Bradley and VanMeter had robbed the Medicine Shoppe, 1020 E. State St., on Oct. 29, 2008.
The friend turned on Bradley, 27, formerly of Hermitage, because Bradley was having an affair with the friend’s girlfriend.
Bradley, who maintained his innocence, went to trial and was convicted by a jury March 21 of robbery, theft, possession of various controlled substances with intent to deliver and conspiracy to commit robbery and unlawful restraint.
Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert G. Yeatts sentenced Bradley in June to 8 years, 4 months to 21 years in prison. He has appealed his conviction.
Later in the month, Van Meter, formerly of Hermitage, pleaded guilty to robbery and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Yeatts sentenced VanMeter to 5 to 10 years in prison - the mandatory minimum sentence - followed by 5 years’ probation.
Bradley and VanMeter called in a bomb threat to West Hill Elementary, diverting Sharon’s safety forces to that side of town, then hit the Medicine Shoppe, sticking up two women with a gun Van Meter carried and stealing OxyContin, Methadone, Percocet, Morphine and Cadmium.
Case Avenue Elementary School across the street was locked down as a result of the robbery.
At Bradley’s sentence hearing, Medicine Shoppe owner Julie Joseph testified that she had been robbed before and planned to give the men whatever they wanted just to get them out of the store with no one hurt.
However, Joseph’s matter-of-fact demeanor turned to terror when the men bound the hands of her and a co-worker, and put them face down on the floor.
“I thought they were going to shoot me,” she said.
Although no one from the Medicine Shoppe testified Thursday, Yeatts told VanMeter that Joseph’s testimony affected him and he was taking it into account for VanMeter’s sentence.
“Can you imagine the fear they had?” Yeatts asked VanMeter, referring to the women.
“I can’t imagine,” VanMeter responded. “It’s (a) horrible thing ... It bothers me a lot.”
VanMeter said he was in “a very bad place in my life” because of an addiction to opiate-derived drugs.
“This (robbery) was a result of that,” he said. “It was a stupid thing to do, very regretful for the pain I caused the ladies.”
Yeatts also called Sharon police detective Steven Ray to testify about the police response that day. VanMeter expressed remorse for the fear he put into students and their parents.
“To be honest, I didn’t think of that,” VanMeter said of the impact on the community.
VanMeter will get out of prison as a relatively young man, and his daughter also still will be young, Yeatts said.
“You will be able to make something of yourself,” Yeatts said.
Yeatts gave VanMeter credit for 186 days in jail and assessed him $12,939 restitution - split with Bradley - and costs.