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Finally, some closure for victim

William "Dave" Newman, more than four years removed from a terrifying robbery and shootout at his Darby home, won a measure of closure Thursday.

His former secretary was questioned in the 2002 robbery but never charged in that crime. However, she pleaded no contest in court Thursday to forging thousands of dollars worth of Newman's checks.

Laura Serneels Kolka, 31, will spend the next 10 years on probation, paying down a towering debt of restitution and court costs, $14,185 of which is Newman's money.

But for the 63-year-old auctioneer, justice is still a long way off.

"This has been the most incredible thing I've ever been through in my life," he said in an interview Thursday.

It was Father's Day 2002. He had just finished mowing the lawn when three men jumped him, beat him and tied him to a tractor. They shot him in the thigh "just for the heck of it," he says. They threatened to cut his wife's throat and left him gagged while searching his house for auction proceeds.

Newman broke free and grabbed a pistol inside his barn, using it to scare off one of the intruders. He called his son-in-law who raced to the house with his own gun and fired 30 rounds at the robbers until they fled.

One man was arrested a day later, walking along State Road 52. Aledward Robertson went to trial a few months later and was convicted, largely on Newman's emotional testimony. Robertson is serving a lifetime prison sentence, topped off with another 15 years.

A second suspect, Wilford Washington, was picked up the day of the robbery, found hiding in a pasture on Newman's neighbor's property.

His trial had been set for next week, but the state dropped the charges when the federal government went after him instead.

It was unclear Thursday why the federal government got involved, but last month Washington entered a plea deal that will put him in prison for at least 10 years and on the hook for up to $500,000.

His sentencing has not been set.

"These guys were strictly professional thugs, armed robbers," Newman said of Washington and Robertson.

The crime still haunts him because he believes others were involved but never caught.

He said he has spent $125,000 of his own money on an attorney to act as an advocate with law enforcement authorities. He's "just trying to push this along and make sure everybody that was involved gets what they're supposed to," Newman said.

Physically, Newman is whole again. But his home and his world are different, made smaller by guns and alarms and ever-present fear.

He used to wake up at night imagining his robbers escaping and people thinking the whole ordeal was a hoax.

In his nightmares, he was screaming into the Grand Canyon, but no one was hearing him.

The nightmares stopped, but Newman's greatest fear - dying before the others are brought to justice - hasn't quieted.

"I guess you never get over something like that."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at (352) 521-6521 or moorhead@sptimes.com

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