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Man gets 14 years for beating news carrier

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BLOOMINGTON - A Bloomington man was sentenced to 14 years in prison Thursday for attacking a newspaper carrier with a tire iron and stealing his wallet during a robbery last year.

Mark Pitts, 39, continued asserting his innocence Thursday in the Nov. 16 attack of a carrier delivering the Pantagraph in Bloomington.

A jury convicted Pitts of armed robbery in May during a trial in which he claimed he was forced at gunpoint to participate in the robbery by a man he never could identify to police.

"Your honor, I'm innocent of this crime. I did not do this crime," Pitts said shortly before Judge Ronald Dozier imposed the sentence.

Assistant State's Attorney Matt Lee asked Dozier for a 20-year sentence, saying Pitts has refused to accept responsibility for his actions.

"This defendant obviously doesn't have any remorse for what he's done. He doesn't care that he hurt a man," Lee said, adding Pitts' claim of being forced to commit robbery is a "fantastic tale not to be believed."

The carrier suffered minor head injuries after Pitts whacked with the tire iron and stole a wallet containing $18.

Although Pitts kept insisting Thursday he didn't want to rob the carrier, he originally confessed to be a willing participant when interviewed by police.

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His videotaped confession and testimony from codefendant Elliot Varner helped jurors return with a guilty verdict after less than two hours of deliberation.

Varner, who is serving eight years in prison after pleading guilty to armed robbery, told jurors at the trial he and Pitts wanted to get money to buy drugs.

Dozier said there was ample evidence against Pitts to justify the jury's verdict.

Responding to Pitts' complaints about his defense, Dozier said Assistant Public Defender Brian McEldowney had little to work with during the trial.

The judge told Pitts his story about an unidentified third man forcing him to commit robbery, while presenting no evidence to back up the claim, was the type of story anyone could make up.

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