ROWLEY — A Peabody man was sentenced this week to eight to 10 years in state prison after admitting he robbed liquor stores in Rowley and Georgetown as well as other businesses last fall.
His sentence brings closure to a long spree of violence that tested the resources of local police departments for two months last year.
Michael Whitcomb, 41, formerly of Beverly, was sentenced Wednesday for twice robbing Skip’s Country Store on Route 133 in Rowley as well as Georgetown Liquor Store and establishments in Peabody and Salem. The robberies were reported last September and October.
The prison term will be followed by two years of supervised probation. The probation period exposes Whitcomb to the potential of up to four life sentences if he violates the terms of his probation, including a condition that he not drink or use drugs and that he submit to random tests.
By pleading guilty to a total of five counts of armed robbery, a charge of unarmed robbery, three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, two counts of assault and battery and a larceny charge, Whitcomb avoided what could have been a nine- to 12-year stay in prision.
“This defendant does not appear to be capable of living in civil society without supervision,” prosecutor Michael Patten said during the proceedings.
Rowley and Georgetown police chiefs yesterday both praised the cooperative efforts of law enforcement agencies in getting a dangerous man off the streets for a significant time.
Georgetown police Chief James Mulligan called Whitcomb a violent predator who preyed on people unable to defend themselves. He added that what made Whitcomb so dangerous is that he would attack people before demanding money.
“Thank God, thank God he didn’t kill somebody,” Mulligan said.
According to local police, Whitcomb, armed with a knife, robbed Georgetown Liquor Store on East Main Street (Route 133) on Sept. 29 and assaulted a 25-year-old clerk.
A 59-year-old woman working in the store was thrown into a pile of boxes, as Whitcomb continued searching for money. He also emptied the woman’s purse, stealing her cash and driver’s license before speeding off in a white sedan.
“I swear on my dead father’s grave, if you call police, I will kill both of you,” Whitcomb warned them.
Georgetown police detective James Rodden said the victim of the Georgetown Liquor Store robbery was able to pick Whitcomb out of a lineup. Tying that identification to evidence collected at the scene and collaborating for many hours with police from Rowley, Ipswich, Boxford, Westford and Peabody, local police said they were able to formally charge Whitcomb with armed robbery and other crimes.
Whitcomb was arrested by Peabody police on Oct. 27 as he emerged from an apartment complex. The arrest came a day after he robbed Skip’s Country Store a second time.
Whitcomb first robbed Skip’s in late September. In that incident, police say the suspect viciously attacked a clerk, stabbing him in the hands before punching him in the head several times. The clerk, SK M. Ahmad, said Whitcomb picked up a six-pack of beer and placed it on the front counter. Then, he rushed behind the front counter and brandished what Ahmad called a folding knife that was at least 6 inches long. Whitcomb then demanded all Ahmad’s money, including everything in the lottery safe.
On Oct. 26, Whitcomb entered Skip’s Country Store just past 7 p.m. and quickly jumped over the front counter. The clerk looked up and immediately began yelling, then climbed over the counter and ran from the store.
As he tried to flag down passing cars, he saw Whitcomb run out of the store, carrying the cash register, which contained about $400. Whitcomb jumped into a black four-door car, which sped off.
The cash register’s tape roll was scattered just outside the store’s entrance. Police believe the suspect made off with about $400.
Rowley police Chief Robert Barker said area detectives met at the Rowley Police Department in October and were able to retrieve valuable evidence by examining Whitcomb’s cellphone records. Whitcomb had dropped his cellphone on Oct. 23, when he stabbed Kevin Stankiewicz twice in the thigh and made off with the West Peabody man’s $400 Keno winnings.
Defense lawyer Alice Jayne said her client has expressed remorse for his actions. She asked the judge to delay his transfer to state prison until next week so that Whitcomb could have one more meeting at Middleton Jail with a chaplain there. The judge granted the request.
“We’re really pleased and hopefully people at Skip’s can rest a little easier knowing this person is behind bars,” Barker said. “He was as bad as they come as far as I’m concerned.”
Salem News reporter Julie Manganis contributed to this report.