March 11, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

When La Grande police starting talking to Gary J. Smith, 41, at his Riddle Road home Friday morning, more was revealed than they expected.

Police say Smith confessed, and he kept confessing through the morning hours of police interviews.

Through the help of witnesses and a local businesss video-monitoring system, police located Smith to question him about the early Friday morning armed robbery at the Gem Stop gas station.

As they talked to Smith, he became a suspect in the Dec. 28 robbery at the Bank of America branch in La Grande, the Friday morning burglary at By-Rite Exxon, and the Dec. 1 robbery at Joes Place.

It was an accumulation of good witnesses, La Grande Police Sgt. Phil Myer said of the police work that led officers to Smiths home within hours of the reported robbery at the Gem Stop.

In all the robberies, the suspect was reported wearing a ski mask and, at least in several incidents, displayed a weapon.

Smith was arraigned Monday afternoon in Union County Circuit Court. He was charged with three counts of first-degree robbery and one count each of second-degree burglary, of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of an unlawful firearm. The robbery charges carry a mandatory 90-month prison sentence each, Union County Chief Deputy District Attorney Janie Burcart said this morning, and since Smith may have used a firearm, an additional five years could be added if he is found guilty on each count.

Additional years of prison time could be added if he is found guilty of the burglary and other charges.

As of this morning, Smith remains in the Union County jail. Bail was set Monday at $150,000.

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