Mass. florist charged in break-in waives hearing

Posted Dec. 30, 2011, at 7 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 30, 2011, at 7:21 p.m.

A western Massachusetts florist charged with breaking into a newspaper editor’s home on Christmas night with a police officer’s stolen gun agreed to be held without bail Friday, rather than appear at a court hearing before a judge and the media.

It was another twist connected to the strange three-day crime spree that Nancy Gehrung is alleged to have committed this month.

Northampton, Mass., police say Gehrung has confessed to an armed robbery at a Holyoke home on Dec. 23, a liquor store robbery in Enfield, Conn., on Christmas Eve and the break-in at the editor’s Northampton home. No one was hurt in any of the crimes.

Gehrung was taken into custody shortly after the Northampton break-in, when she was walking by the house with no coat on and torn clothing, police said. Her car was nearby.

The 48-year-old Northampton resident, who owns Nancy’s Flower Depot in Springfield, has been charged only with the Northampton case, in which she allegedly pointed a gun at a family member before fleeing with a $100 bill, a gorilla mask and other items. She pleaded not guilty earlier this week to charges including armed assault, receiving stolen property and breaking and entering, and was ordered held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing in Northampton District Court.

A judge on Friday was scheduled to hold the hearing to determine whether Gehrung was a danger to herself or others and whether to set bail, but Gehrung waived her right to the hearing. Her public defender, Jonah Goldsmith, said part of the reason was she didn’t want to go into a courtroom filled with media cameras. Her case was continued to Jan. 27.

“There was concern she would be prejudiced with the cameras there. There may be potential defenses that could be compromised,” Goldsmith said. He declined to elaborate. He also declined to comment on the allegations.

First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne said he expects to present Gehrung’s case to a grand jury in January. If she’s indicted, the issue of bail will likely be addressed at her arraignment in Superior Court, he said.

“We were prepared to argue that … she was too dangerous to release,” Gagne said.

Northampton police say the gun Gehrung allegedly used had been reported stolen by a Willimantic, Conn., police officer a few days before the crime spree. The officer told authorities that someone took his .45-caliber service pistol from the trunk of his car in Norwich, Conn., while he was off duty and working out at a gym.

Police say Gehrung told them she found the gun on the side of a road.

Police allege Gehrung broke into a home in Holyoke on Dec. 23 and pointed the gun at a woman who lived there. Investigators say that when they searched Gehrung’s car after the Northampton break-in, they found items stolen from both the Holyoke and Northampton homes. Enfield police say a woman robbed the State Line Package Store on Route 5 near the Massachusetts line at gunpoint on Christ mas Eve and made off with $20.

Kathleen Mellen, arts editor at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, said she found a woman in her house standing next to her Christmas tree when she and her family returned home from seeing a movie on Christmas Day. Mellen said the woman walked toward the back door and encountered her son-in-law.

“Then I heard my son-in-law say, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa,’ and I heard the word ‘gun,”’ Mellen said. “That’s what sent me out the front door.”

Mellen said she ran to a neighbor’s house, where several people called 911. She said her son-in-law later told her the intruder pointed the gun at him but left the house without further incident.

“I was terrified,” Mellen said. “When I ran from the house, I was just certain I was going to hear a gunshot. I thought she was going to shoot my daughter and son-in-law.”

Mellen said the thief made off with a $100 bill taken from her dresser, a 30-year-old portable CD player, a Swiss Army knife, some shoe polish and fleece pullovers. She also said the intruder took a gorilla mask from her husband’s closet.

One to two hours after the encounter, Mellen said Gehrung walked by her house and said “Merry Christmas” to a police officer and a family friend who were outside. Police said Gehrung looked suspicious because she wasn’t wearing a coat and her clothes were torn and dirty. Police said they also smelled alcohol on her. Officers took her into protective custody, and police say Gehrung later confessed to the crimes.

“It boggles the mind,” Mellen said about Gehrung’s alleged crimes. “It’s unfortunate.”

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