GREENFIELD — A Fortville man who called in a bomb threat at a local high school in hopes of diverting police attention while he robbed a bank a few blocks away asked a judge to sentence him to a prison drug treatment program that would likely amount to less time behind bars.
Matthew Irwin, 31, agreed to plead guilty to robbery and was scheduled to be sentenced in Hancock Circuit Court Thursday, but at the last minute asked Judge Richard Culver to place him in the Department of Correction’s Purposeful Incarceration program, which helps prisoners overcome their addictions while earning good-behavior time that would lessen their sentences.
Irwin has accepted an agreement from prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to robbery and admitted to being a habitual offender, which enhances a defendant’s sentence, records show. Police say Irwin and a friend called a bomb threat in to Mt. Vernon High School in March before holding up the Greenfield Banking Co. branch in Fortville the same afternoon.
Irwin admitted his role in the crime in court Thursday but blamed an addiction to drugs and alcohol for driving him to commit crimes.
Prosecutors asked that Irwin be sentenced to serve 10 years in the Department of Correction, the maximum sentence, Prosecutor Brent Eaton said.
The judge took the request under advisement and delayed Irwin’s sentencing. Attorneys have been asked to meet next week to discuss Irwin’s request further and agree upon a sentencing date.
Irwin told the judge he has been abusing drugs and alcohol since he was a boy. While earning a shorter sentence in the free Purposeful Incarceration program is a perk, getting clean is his priority, Irwin said. Seeking such treatment while not incarcerated is costly, he said.
“I just feel like I need help … and it’s too expensive to pay for it on the streets,” Irwin told the judge.
“But it’s very expensive to buy drugs, too, isn’t it?” Chief Deputy Prosecutor Marie Castetter fired back during questioning.
The bomb threat and bank robbery Irwin is accused of orchestrating occurred within a half hour of each other on March 13.
Just before 11 a.m. that day, Mt. Vernon High School’s official got a vague phone call about bomb from a number with a Las Vegas area code. Several law enforcement agencies were called to the school, and students were evacuated, police said.
A half hour later, 911 dispatchers were told that Greenfield Banking Co., 111 W. Broadway St., had been robbed. A man, fitting Irwin’s description, wearing a fake beard and glasses had handed a teller a note demanding money, police said.
Police were immediately suspicious the two events were connected. Investigators were able to trace the call to the school to a pay phone in Anderson, where surveillance video helped them identify Irwin, according to police reports.
Irwin’s accomplice, Britney Krieg, made that phone call, police said. She pleaded guilty to felony charges of robbery and false reporting in June and was sentenced to five years.
Jeff McClarnon, Irwin’s attorney, said his client has an extensive criminal history with “drug and alcohol abuse written all over it.”
If the Purposeful Incarceration program is not an option, McClarnon said his client will likely seek drug treatment while in the DOC anyway.
Culver said he would research the Purposeful Incarceration program and carefully examine Irwin’s criminal history before making a final decision, but he believed Irwin’s offenses call for a strict sentence.
“What you did was bad enough. … I just can’t slap your wrist and send you on your way,” Culver said.