ST. GEORGE – A LaVerkin man was sentenced to serve five years to life in prison Thursday for two gunpoint robberies committed at the same pharmacy.
Jonathan Shon Forest, 37, appeared in 5th District Court in St. George before Judge Eric Ludlow with attorney Ryan Stout Thursday morning for sentencing in the two aggravated robbery cases, which took place at Hurricane Family Pharmacy in March 2014 and March of this year.
Forest pleaded guilty to both robberies in July after taking a plea deal that reduced the number of charges he faced and recommended time served for each criminal charge to be concurrent rather than consecutive.
For both incidents, Forest pleaded guilty to first-degree felony aggravated robbery charges, which carry five-years-to-life prison sentences, as well as five third-degree felonies related to aggravated assault and drug possession. Each third-degree felony carries a sentence of up to 5 years.
Stout noted letters from Forest’s family that described him as a hardworking and well-loved family man who had fallen into drug addiction and had very little criminal history prior to the robberies. Stout asked Ludlow to consider giving Forest a two-year jail term followed by drug treatment.
“The letters give us insight into a Jonathan who was crime free …” Stout said. “He has accepted full responsibility in this case.”
The judge rejected the request.
After hearing statements from the victims and family of the accused, Ludlow sentenced Forest to serve five years to life in prison for the aggravated robbery and the five additional third-degree felonies. The terms are to be served concurrently. He is also ordered to pay over $36,000 in restitution.
In both robberies of Hurricane Family Pharmacy, located at 25 N. 2000 West in Hurricane, Forest entered the business and demanded drugs at gunpoint. While he was able to flee the scene after the first robbery, he was caught by police soon after the second robbery, thanks to the aid of witnesses.
The pistol used in the robberies was later discovered to be an airsoft pellet gun – a fact that made no difference to those involved.
“A plastic gun makes zero difference,” Cliff Holt, owner of Hurricane Family Pharmacy, said to the court.
Holt and about eight others, most wearing shirts bearing the pharmacy’s logo, were allowed to address the court and tell Ludlow the effect the robberies have had on them.
Some recounted both robberies. In the first robbery, Forest came in wearing a mask and pointed the gun at an elderly customer, threatening to kill her if he didn’t get access to drugs, one of the pharmacy employees said. He then pointed the gun at one of the clerks behind the counter.
“This has affected me greatly,” one of the employees said. “It’s not going to be something that goes away in two years.”
Many of the employees present during the robberies expressed feelings of fear and anxiety left in the wake of Forest’s actions. One employee, who worked at the pharmacy for five years, ended up quitting due to experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms.
Some employees are near-constantly on the alert when customers who appear even slightly aggressive enter the store now. Others experience nightmares and a general loss of trust in those around them, they said.
One of the employees, who identified himself as a former drug addict, told the court he understood how this sort of situation can happen. He said he also believed the man who robbed them would eventually be back. The next time, he would be ready for him, the employee said.
“I had every intent not to let him leave alive,” he said, referring to the second robbery. However, something stopped the man and gave him a sense the robber would be caught – and he was.
Tips from witnesses and pharmacy employees led to Forest’s capture soon after the second robbery on March 11. An investigation into the March 11 robbery connected Forest to the 2014 incident, and he was charged accordingly.
“I want to apologize to the victims of my crime,” Forest said, adding that he regretted his actions. “… I hope and pray you can forgive me.”
Forest also asked for the forgiveness of his family members, who were present in the courtroom sitting in the gallery opposite the pharmacy staff.
Stout said Forest became addicted to pain killers following back surgery five years ago. He also tried to seek treatment for the resulting addiction but was unsuccessful.
Bryan Pulsipher, who formerly employed Forest, said he wouldn’t hesitate to hire Forest again, provided he served his time and got straightened out first.
“It’s sad to see what an addiction will do to someone,” Pulsipher said. “He needs to pay for his actions and get his stuff together.”
Members of Forest’s family each apologized to the pharmacy staff and told the court they loved and supported him, but that he also needed help for the drug addiction. After hearing from the family, Ludlow told Forest he had come from a great family and also recognized them as victims in the case.
“Mr. Forest, there are certain crimes that you commit that you go to prison for,” Ludlow said. “This is one of those crimes. … You are going to prison for a few bottles of drugs.”
Facing the possibility of life in prison, Forest was also told by the judge that he had a chance to turn his life around and seek treatment and change for the better.
“The ball is now in your court,” Ludlow said.
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