JANESVILLE

A teenage robber from Janesville will spend a year in jail and four years on probation, but if he doesn’t violate any rules, he will avoid a criminal record.

Ethan A. Balkema, 18, of 2024 Polk St. was sentenced in Rock County Court on Friday.

Balkema and another teen pulled pellet guns on a person who was playing basketball in Bond Park on Sept. 24 and took the person’s phone and bag, according to the criminal complaint.

Balkema also committed a second armed robbery two days later with Tyler D. Kjell, 18, of 2531 S. River Road, Janesville. They robbed the west-side Dollar General store at gunpoint, according to the criminal complaint.

Kjell has pleaded not guilty in that case.

Charges against Balkema in the second robbery were reduced to false imprisonment, theft and disorderly conduct while armed. He pleaded guilty to the first charge and no contest to the other two.

Judge Karl Hanson sentenced Balkema to four years of probation, to include a year in jail with work- and school-release privileges.

As part of the conditions of probation, Hanson ordered Balkema to finish high school.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Jahnke noted Balkema was 17 at the time of the Sept. 24 robbery and had no criminal record, “but he certainly jumped into the deep end of the pool with this conduct.”

Jahnke said Balkema has “significant incentive” to follow probation rules because the alternative is a prison sentence.

“He is on very thin ice,” Jahnke said.

Balkema apologized to his victims and said he sees the sentence as an opportunity to turn his life around.

“I know I did screw up pretty bad,” he said.

Hanson said Balkema took responsibility for someone’s life or death in his hands in the Dollar General robbery. He said if a police officer had come upon the robbery, and if Balkema had escalated the situation, the young man could be dead.

“I could easily be persuaded, sir, to send you to prison right now,” Hanson said.

But Hanson went along with the plea agreement and ordered Balkema to report to jail immediately.

Defense attorney Michael Murphy said Balkema has stayed out of trouble since his arrest, showing he has potential to successfully complete probation, while his co-defendant has gotten into serious trouble, again.

Balkema committed the first robbery with Austin D. Groebner, 18, of 2624 King St., Janesville.

Groebner was sentenced in March in a similar plea agreement. Groebner pleaded guilty to reduced charges of theft from a person while armed and no contest to charges of disorderly conduct while armed and theft. He was sentenced to three years of probation.

Groebner was given the opportunity to have the first, most serious charge, expunged if he completed probation successfully.

But Groebner was charged Friday with robbery by use of force and party to substantial battery in an alleged robbery last Sunday in the 200 block of Longwood Drive in Janesville.

According to the criminal complaint, Groebner’s accomplice in the robbery was Kjell, who threatened to use a gun and held the male while Groebner punched him.

The male was robbed of nine THC cartridges that the male intended to sell Kjell and Groebner, according to the complaint.

Kjell is also awaiting trial on another robbery that didn’t involve Balkema, allegedly committed on March 28 at the Subway on Center Avenue.