Although nearly a quarter-century has passed since the botched home-invasion robbery that left a Plainfield Township couple battered and frightened, Matthew Hebert will pay for his role in the crime by carrying a felony record for the rest of his life.

Hebert was arrested in January at a motel in Florida after 24 years on the run. He pleaded no contest Thursday to criminal trespassing and simple assault charges filed in 1990 in connection with the Northampton County incident.

Judge Leonard Zito sentenced Hebert, 42, to five years of probation, which he will be allowed to serve in his home state of Florida.

Assistant District Attorney Patricia Mulqueen said the case presented a challenge for prosecutors, given the age of the charges and the fact that the victims, Florence and Allie Van Doren, are dead.

Even Hebert, who was 19 at the time of the attempted robbery, could not remember the details of the incident, which was the reason he pleaded no contest to the charges, Mulqueen said.

But when the case landed on Mulqueen's desk last year after the arrest of an accomplice, she did legal research to establish that the Van Dorens' statements from 1990 would be admissible in a trial.

With the testimony of Plainfield Township police officer Joseph Straka, who was first to arrive at the Van Dorens' home after the crime, Mulqueen said she was confident the district attorney's office could prosecute the men.

"I'm proud that we went forward on the prosecution, even though it's an old case," she said. "It's important that the public know that we're going to fight old cases. We're going to do whatever we can."

Hebert, who spoke during Thursday's hearing only to say that he agreed to the no contest plea, has lived a life free of crime since he skipped bail in 1990 in Northampton County, defense attorney Susan Hutnik said.

For Straka, who retired this year, the case remained at the forefront of his mind, he said in an interview earlier this year.

According to court records, Hebert, William White and Patrick White pulled into the Van Dorens' driveway in the 700 block of Rasleytown Road shortly before 5 p.m. March 31, 1990.

Patrick White knocked on the door and launched into a sales pitch to repair the lightning rods on the Van Dorens' home. While he led Allie Van Doren, then a 63-year-old retired steelworker, to the backyard on the pretense of inspecting the house, Hebert and William White went inside.

Florence, Allie Van Doren's wife of more than 40 years, was gagged with duct tape as the two men ransacked the couple's house searching for cash and jewelry, court records say.

When Allie Van Doren ran to help his wife, Patrick White punched him in the nose, breaking it. According to Straka's report on the incident, the two others joined in, leaving Van Doren with broken ribs and black eyes.

The three men fled, but a Bangor police officer spotted their van on Route 512 less than 15 minutes after the Van Dorens called for help. Police from across the region swooped in to arrest them, Straka recalled.

After the men were released on bail and disappeared, Straka worked with local media to publicize the case and bring them to justice. He had no luck until 2012, when William White was arrested for drunken driving in New York, and a background check revealed he was wanted in Pennsylvania.

White, 44, of Schenectady, N.Y., pleaded guilty last year to reduced charges of criminal trespassing and simple assault and was sentenced to probation. His uncle, Patrick White, is dead.

Straka turned to the FBI for help locating Hebert, and on Jan. 17, sheriff's deputies in Florida discovered he was wanted when they arrested Hebert's female companion at a motel in the Tampa area.

"There was no question in my mind that we should bring him back and prosecute," Mulqueen said.

peter.hall@mcall.com

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