An Idaho judge has sentenced a man to up to nine years in prison for robbing two Latter-day Saints missionaries at knifepoint last year on a sidewalk in Idaho Falls, according to court documents.
However, Spencer Jeffrey Russell Blanchette, 33, first will enter a prison rider program to undergo treatment, according to the order issued by Seventh District Judge Joel Tingey. When treatment is complete, Tingey will either release Blanchette on probation or implement the remainder of his sentence.
The sentence and rider agreement are part of a plea bargain.
Police said Blanchette stepped out of the passenger side door of a Dodge Durango on the night of Nov. 27, 2020, and brandished a knife at two missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to court documents and East Idaho News reports.
The missionaries told police that the Durango stopped near them at the exit of a Winco parking lot and that Blanchette ordered them to surrender a backpack he thought contained drugs, according to the East Idaho News. The missionaries surrendered the backpack, Blanchette returned to the Durango and the driver drove away.
The driver was not charged.
The court ordered Blanchette to have no contact with the missionary who relinquished the backpack, according to Alayne Bean, a chief deputy prosecuting attorney for Bonneville County.
Police said Blanchette and the Durango were involved in another incident that night, Before robbing the missionaries, Blanchette allegedly attempted to shoplift clothing at Dillards.
The judge sentenced Blanchette to serve up to six years in prison for grand theft for the shoplifting crime. The sentences are concurrent.
Blanchette told police he went to a bar earlier that night and didn’t remember much about the evening. He admitted to the attempted shoplifting, which he abandoned when confronted by a Dillards employee, but he denied robbing the missionaries, according to the news report.
Police arrested Blanchette and prosecutors charged him with robbery and grand theft. He was released on a $35,000 bond while the cases were pending. In February, he initially pleaded not guilty to robbing the missionaries.
Blanchette pleaded guilty in June.
His defense attorney told the judge that Blanchette has a long history of substance abuse, the Idaho State Journal reported. He also has been diagnosed with mental health problems since his arrest and has begun treatment.
The rider program is designed to provide treatments to reduce recidivism. Blanchette had a limited criminal history.
“We reached the plea agreement through a judge-facilitated mediation,” said Bean, the prosecuting attorney, in an email to the Deseret News. “As a part of any mediation, we talk about the pros and cons of the evidence the state would present at trial, as well as the likely sentence a judge would issue, given the particulars of a defendant’s prior record, substance issues, mental health needs, etc.”
The missionaries’ backpack was never recovered, she said.