Many Puzzled About Motive Of 'Whitman 5'

By Lori Aratani and Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 27, 2006

One is a high school football star, already courted by 20 colleges. Two others are talented athletes in their own right. Few in the community believe that the students -- now dubbed "the Whitman Five" by their classmates after being charged in connection with an armed robbery -- would have done it for the money. So the question remains: Why?

Pat Lazear, the football star, and wrestlers Justin Schweiger, Tommy Ashley and Alex Krouskas, all 17-year-old juniors, were arrested at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda on May 19. Robert Warren, also 17 and a junior, was arrested April 27. In March, police say, the teenagers allegedly hatched a plan to rob the Smoothie King in downtown Bethesda at gunpoint. After committing the robbery, they drove down the street, divvied up the money and treated themselves to pizza, police say.

Two of the five teenagers -- Lazear and Ashley -- appeared in court yesterday, although neither spoke. During the preliminary hearing, Montgomery County District Court Judge Mary Beth McCormick agreed to delay the cases against Ashley, Lazear, Krouskas and Schweiger until June 16. Warren's case had previously been set for that date. The state might move to indict the defendants before the court date, assistant state's attorney Thomas DeGonia said.

Lazear, dressed in a blazer, sat with his father, an assistant football coach at Whitman, in the rear of the courtroom and left as soon as his attorney arranged for the case to be continued. Ashley, dressed in a coat and tie, appeared with his parents and left without comment.

Ashley's attorney, Barry H. Helfand, said after the hearing that his client is innocent and challenged the account of the crime given by the girlfriend of one of the defendants. He said he will seek to have the case heard in juvenile court and will ask for a trial on the charges.

Warren's attorney, David Driscoll, said in an interview yesterday that "details will emerge that will shed a different light on this. There's more to it than meets the eye."

The incident is fueling much gossip and speculation on the 1,800-student campus, where Lazear is already a heavily recruited college football prospect, and two of the other students, Schweiger and Ashley, are considered gifted athletes. On Wednesday, Principal Alan Goodwin posted a message on the school's electronic discussion forum cautioning people not to get "involved in speculation" and to "allow the judicial process to run its course."

Still, the question of what might have motivated the teenagers -- students at one of the county's most highly regarded campuses -- to do such a thing seemed to be on everyone's mind.

"I think it's insanely stupid,'' said Alex Dembski, 18, a Whitman senior, "just a bad decision all around."

"I think it will hurt Whitman,'' added Alexander Borman, also a senior. "Whitman is a very good school, and people are very disappointed about this. Pat is extremely well known."

But some in the community suggested the incident was being blown out of proportion.

"I think children are often guilty of youthful indiscretions, and they make mistakes,'' said Pat Elder, the parent of a freshman at the school. "Whitman has a stellar reputation as a stellar academic institution. You have five boys who did something stupid, and the school will play its role in helping them recover and move forward.''

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