GOSHEN — The first time Nicole Markin recognized her son’s picture in the paper, he was the suspect in an August 2017 armed robbery.
The Goshen woman contacted Elkhart police and told them they were looking for her then-19-year-old son, Jordan Studabaker, but she said nothing came of it. The second time she suspected Studabaker was involved in a robbery, she came in to the Goshen Police Department and gave them her evidence in person.
The call about the third robbery came in while she was there at the police station.
Studabaker, now 21, was facing three Level 3 felony charges after his arrest in January 2018, by officers who tracked him to his hiding spot by following his footprints in the snow. He received a 30-year sentence Thursday, with 10 years suspended, after pleading guilty to all three counts of armed robbery.
His mother testified that his crime spree came after months of refusing to take his medication.
“He was in the middle of a manic episode,” she told Circuit Court Judge Michael Christofeno.
Studabaker had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, autism and anxiety at age 4-1/2, she said. She made him live in the garage after he had been off his meds for long enough.
“It was not a good feeling to make him stay in the garage,” she said. “He would have been in the house if he was taking his medication.”
Markin said her son was already attacked twice while in jail, suffering a mild concussion the second time. Her fear now is that, with Studabaker’s lack of social skills, he might not survive prison.
‘A sad and serious case’
Studabaker’s first armed robbery was of a north Elkhart gas station on Aug. 12, 2017. Police sent out images of him captured by security cameras, and asked if anyone recognized the nearly 6-foot-tall, white 20-something man in a blue hoodie and khaki cargo shorts.
In one of the images he can be seen aiming a handgun at the clerk while gesturing with his other hand. He also wore a cloth mask over the top half of his face, something with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles print on it and eye holes cut out.
He threatened to use a handgun in other robberies committed Jan. 11 and just after midnight on Jan. 13, 2018, in Goshen. He was arrested after police found him hiding under a bridge, next to a plastic bag containing over $250 in cash, less than an hour after robbing a downtown gas station.
Studabaker was initially charged with only the last robbery, but the two other counts were added in March 2018. He pleaded guilty to all three counts in February 2019, in an agreement that sets a 20-year cap on prison time.
Elkhart County Deputy Prosecutor Don Pitzer pointed out that one of the cashiers Studabaker robbed decided not to testify against him in court, because she was still too afraid to look at him. He said the woman was still affected by post-traumatic stress disorder because of the incident.
Pitzer recommended the nine-year advisory term for each count for a total sentence of 27 years, with seven suspended. The maximum sentence for three consecutive Level 3 felonies would be 48 years.
He made the recommendation after remarking that, while Studabaker has to deal with his own mental challenges, the public has to deal with his actions.
“Society has to deal with him when he’s breaking the law. This is much worse than some minor crime – armed robberies of businesses are very serious,” Pitzer said. “What do we do with a person like this? A person who does not conform to the law, and who can make his own decision on taking his medication? This is a sad and serious case.”
A different person
Studabaker’s lawyer, Jeffrey Majarek, acknowledged that the structured environment of prison, where he can stay on his medication, was probably the best place for him. He pushed for 20 years in prison with six suspended.
“The fantasy level behind what he thought he was doing – this wasn’t a person who was on medication,” Majarek said. “There’s no other place to put him. It’s clear he’s going to the (Indiana Department of Corrections).”
Majarek also observed that, as he visited Studabaker at the jail, he saw the same transformation in demeanor that his mother described after he started taking his medication again.
“I remember the first time I met him at the jail. My first thought was that this would be a competency case,” he said. “But over time, he became more lucid. He was a whole different person.”
Ahead of receiving his sentence, Studabaker read from a prepared statement in which he apologized to the victims and his family for the pain he caused them. He told the judge he learned a lot from the programs he took in jail, and that he hopes to get some job training and start a family once he gets out of prison.
“I realized that jail is not fun, that family is important and that money is not worth anyone’s life,” he said. “I realize I really did something stupid. I should have stayed on my meds.”
Christofeno told Studabaker there were a lot of mitigators in his case, including his young age, his mental health and addiction issues, and the fact that he accepted responsibility. But it was hard to see past the seriousness of the crimes.
“This is your first felony conviction as an adult, but what a whopper,” Christofeno remarked. “Three Level 3 felonies and there’s another case to be dismissed, involving fraud and theft.”
The judge concluded that the nine-year advisory term plus a one-year enhancement for each count, served consecutively, would be appropriate. He ordered that the full 10 years of the third term be suspended and served on probation, leaving 20 years in prison.
On Majarek’s recommendation, Christofeno also ordered that Studabaker receive substance abuse evaluation and treatment. He said he would consider a sentence modification if Studabaker completes a therapeutic community drug program.
“You’ve got to show me that you’ve got control over your life,” he told Studabaker. “It’s not that I’m not empathetic to your mental health issues. ... The problem is, the other side of my duty is to protect the community from you going off your meds and being a danger.”