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Warren man sentenced in Home Depot theft

Staff photo / Ed Runyan Nicholas Lee, left, and his attorney, Ross Smith, listen to Judge Anthony D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Thursday during Lee’s sentencing hearing on a robbery charge.

YOUNGSTOWN — A troubled 38-year-old man with a history of substance abuse and thefts, and a pending felonious assault case in Trumbull County, was sentenced Thursday to six months in the Mahoning County jail.

Nicholas J. Lee, 38, of Lancer Court in Warren and other addresses in Youngstown and Niles, pleaded guilty earlier to felony robbery for stealing $400 worth of wire from the Home Depot in Austintown and punching an employee who asked to see his receipt. The blow knocked off the employee’s glasses.

Judge Anthony D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court also ordered Lee to take part in an inpatient treatment program through the Community Corrections Association and serve three years of probation. The judge said he’s not sure of the timing of the lockdown treatment, which will address substance abuse and mental health.

Lee’s charges in Trumbull County are felonious assault and 10 counts of violating a protection order. Those offenses date from June 29, one week after Lee’s robbery at the Home Depot and one day before he tried to commit suicide in the Trumbull County jail.

An ambulance took Lee to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital with neck injuries after he was found unresponsive in his cell after returning from Warren Municipal Court on a domestic dispute that turned into indictments for felonious assault and violating a protection order.

On Thursday, a regional asset protection officer for Home Depot told D’Apolito the employees at Home Depot are “very familiar with Mr. Lee” because of previous incidents involving him.

The judge said he supports the store’s need to protect its employees and its merchandise but also said he hopes “at some point we get to the heart of why he does these things and deal with that.”

Lee’s attorney, Ross Smith, said Lee’s criminal record has been “fueled by substances” and Lee was on heroin when he struck the Home Depot employee.

He noted Lee made a “pretty severe suicide attempt” while in jail on another case. “My understanding is while he was at the hospital, he had coded for 7 to 10 minutes, had lost a lot of oxygen or brain activity and was in the ICU for 24 to 48 hours before he was able to retain his full faculties.”

Coded is a term for needing to be revived.

“It’s actually quite honestly a miracle that the dude is standing in front of you, judge. And in light of that, it speaks volumes that his wife … is in the courtroom and completely supportive of Mr. Lee to try to get him help.”

Lee is working on his sobriety but has unaddressed mental health issues, Smith said.

Lee almost immediately broke down when he addressed the judge. He said when he woke up in the hospital after his suicide attempt and was sent to the psychiatric ward, “from that day on, it gave me power and strength to become sober.”

The judge mentioned Lee has “a long history of mental health issues stemming back from the fact from you didn’t know your father, your mother drank” and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia.

The judge said it is “important to me that no one ever is hurt again from your conditions, including you.” He said if he comes to the conclusion that “sending you to prison is the way to protect everyone from you,” he will send Lee to prison.

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