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3 Get Life in Prison for Robberies

May 8, 1998 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ Three men who were convicted in a deadly string of bank and armored car robberies after prosecutors finally broke the ``code of silence″ in Boston’s rough Charlestown neighborhood were sentenced Friday to life in prison.

Immediately after he was sentenced, Anthony Shea jumped up from his seat, threw a cup of water at prosecutor Gary Milano, cursed him and threatened to punch him. Shea was immediately subdued by U.S. marshals.

Shea, 35, Stephen Burke, 42, and Michael O’Halloran, 40, were convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, robbery and other offenses Dec. 22 for a series of holdups in New England and Florida. Two armored car guards were shot to death in New Hampshire in 1994 during one of the robberies.

U.S. District Judge Stephen McAuliffe sentenced them to life in prison and fined each man $250,000, saying they might make money from book and movie deals.

A fourth defendant, Patrick McGonagle, 59, was sentenced separately in the afternoon to 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, bank robbery, and lesser charges. A fifth man, Matthew McDonald, 36, will be sentenced June 18.

None of the defendants was charged directly with murder, but the carjacking and armed robbery convictions stated that those felonies also led to the guards’ deaths, making the defendants eligible for life sentences.

``These individuals had every intent of surviving a firefight,″ said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Vicinanzo, adding the robbers wore bulletproof vests and carried assault weapons. He said despite the possibility of parole, it is unlikely the men ever will get out of prison.

All five men are from Charlestown, where neighbors lived in such fear of reprisals that they wouldn’t talk to police when a crime occurred. Prosecutors eventually produced a string of witnesses, many of them former associates of the men, including Burke’s brother, John Burke.

At his sentencing, Stephen Burke accused the FBI and prosecutors of giving money, drugs and other incentives to witnesses.

``We never had a chance in this trial. We were railroaded. This trial was a charade, a farce, a New Hampshire-style lynching,″ he said.

In an apparent threat against his brother, Burke read a passage from the Bible saying that the destroyer would be destroyed and the traitor would be betrayed.

Dennis Normandeau, the brother of one of the slain guards, Ronald Normandeau, read a letter from their mother to the court: ``A sentence of life in prison is a very small price for these men to pay. Their only life is money and violence.″