Former homeless man returns to court to shake judge’s hand

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Northwest Indiana Times on 3/17/2016 by Elvia Malagon

"I appreciate all the help and especially from you, Judge Murray, for the push that you gave me." -- David Potchen

“I appreciate all the help and especially from you, Judge Murray, for the push that you gave me.” — David Potchen

CROWN POINT — About a year ago, David Potchen told Lake County Criminal Judge Clarence Murray he wanted to come back to his courtroom one day as a working man to shake his hand.

Dressed in a black button-up shirt tucked into his jeans, Potchen returned Thursday to face Murray for his criminal case’s one-year review.

“I appreciate all the help and especially from you, Judge Murray, for the push that you gave me,” Potchen said.

He asked Murray if there was any way he could shake his hand. Murray, who is usually stoic as he presides over criminal cases, told him yes. He smiled as Potchen approached his bench to shake his hand.

Thursday’s hearing marked the end of Potchen’s legal hurdles, which started when on June 6, 2014, he robbed a Chase Bank in Merrillville so he could get arrested.


He left the bank with $1,160 and waited at a nearby parking lot for police. According to court records, he told a responding officer, “I’m the one you are looking for, I robbed the bank.”

Desperate measures

The robbery happened three months after he was released from prison on criminal confinement charges. Those charges stem from 2001 when he took Centier Bank workers in Lowell hostage while armed with a shotgun.

The 2001 robbery happened while Potchen was on the verge of losing his Lake Dalecarlia home.

After being released from prison, he worked at Stanrail in Gary until he was laid off. Potchen lived off of his savings until his only option became living in a wooded area near Calumet Township.

Defense attorney Stephen Scheele said he tried to convince Potchen that life outside incarceration wasn’t so bad. But Potchen was determined to be sentenced the maximum amount of time in prison.

Potchen initially pleaded guilty without the benefit of a plea agreement from the Lake County prosecutor’s office.

Before Thursday’s hearing, Potchen said while sitting in a conference room in court that it was Murray who convinced him not to give up.

“It’s just something about the way he said there has to be something better,” Potchen said. “I thought this is the only shot I was going to get.”

The public rallied around Potchen after hearing about his story in local newspapers. People donated clothes, helped find a place for him to live and secured a job for him.

As part of his pretrial diversion agreement, Potchen was required to maintain a job while the state withheld prosecution for a year on conversion, a Class A misdemeanor. That charge was dismissed Thursday.

In the year since he entered the agreement, Potchen has been working for a company doing welding and mechanical work six days a week. He usually picks up side jobs on his time off.

Second chance gives him purpose

Scheele said Potchen’s focus and work ethic are what make the case exceptional. Potchen’s work gives him a purpose, Scheele said.