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Connellsville store owner who was robbed: Legal system broken

| Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Fayette County businessman told a judge Thursday that too many convicted criminals are being let out of jail too soon, sending them back to their communities to “terrorize” law-abiding citizens.

“The system's broken,” testified Patrick Halfhill during a sentencing hearing for a man who robbed his Connellsville convenience store of $550 in April.

“It's not working,” Halfhill said, when advised that terms of the man's plea bargain called for a minimum of four months in jail. “These people are terrorizing us.”

Todd Alan Swink, 24, of Connellsville pleaded guilty in July to robbery, theft, receiving stolen property and possession of drug paraphernalia. In a criminal complaint, Connellsville police said Swink robbed a clerk at Halfhill's convenience store, the South Side Grocer on South Pittsburgh Street, at 11:15 p.m. April 2.

According to the complaint, Swink positioned one of his hands inside the pocket of his hooded jacket to appear as if he was armed. Police used surveillance video to identify Swink as a potential suspect, and his father confirmed the identification, according to the complaint.

Swink was taken into custody at a trailer near Marion Motors in Bullskin Township, where police said he was in possession of a “heroin kit” consisting of a tourniquet, syringe, spoon and water bottle. Swink told police he robbed the store “to supply his drug habit,” according to the complaint.

In court on Thursday, Halfhill said the robbery was particularly disturbing because Swink was a regular patron and his mother formerly worked at the store. The two clerks who were working the night of the robbery “were quite unsettled,” he said, and word of the robbery left customers feeling uneasy.

Halfhill said he was unhappy with the plea bargain. He said recent crime in the city, including the brutal slaying of a woman whose body was thrown into the Youghiogheny River and a tire-slashing vandalism spree that left 38 victims with $12,000 in damages, has residents living in fear.

“I'm up here begging you to put him away as long as you possibly can,” Halfhill testified. “I don't want him terrorizing the people at the store.”

Somewhat jokingly, Halfhill suggested an even harsher punishment.

“I'd like you to take him outside and hang him,” Halfhill said. “He's never going to contribute to society.”

District Attorney Jack Heneks said terms of the plea bargain were based on a number of factors, including the fact Swink has no prior record. The sentence was in the standard range, with the minimum having called for only probation.

“That doesn't put him off the streets forever, (but) I can't do that for everyone,” Heneks said.

Wagner said Swink likely is eligible for immediate parole because he has already served the minimum.

As a special condition of his parole, Wagner ordered Swink to stay out of Halfhill's store and to have no contact with its employees for the duration of his sentence.

“I understand that's difficult to enforce, if they pass by on the street corner,” Wagner said. “But as far as him coming in and talking to any of the employees, that would be a violation.”

Swink apologized after he was sentenced.

After the hearing, Halfhill said he was unimpressed with the apology. He said during the 20 years he has run the store, he has dealt with a variety of crimes, including a robbery in 1995 and the loss of thousands of dollars in shoplifted goods.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or

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