A double armed robbery trial

Scott Ballard District Attorney

October 12, 2013

In Georgia, like most places, we have different levels of theft crimes.

At the lowest level is theft. That is when somebody takes something that is yours with the intention of depriving you of its use. It is a misdemeanor unless the value of the stolen item exceeds $1,500.

The offense is upgraded if the thief breaks into a building. Then the crime is burglary. Even among burglaries, there are levels of severity depending upon whether the building was a commercial one or somebody’s home.

Then there is robbery. People often misuse that term. They will say, “Somebody robbed my house.”

That would be incorrect. People don’t rob houses—they burglarize them. Criminals rob other people. The key factor is that the property was taken from somebody while the victim was present. The stolen item must have been in the possession of the victim when it was taken or in the immediate vicinity.

It might be robbery by sudden snatching. That’s what occurs when somebody runs past a lady and grabs her purse as he goes by.

Robbery is a little more serious if the robber uses a form of intimidation to convince the victim to hand over the property. And if the robber uses a weapon as the form of intimidation, the crime is armed robbery. That carries a penalty of up to 20 years or even life in prison. Everybody, including the Parole Board, views armed robbery as one of the most serious crimes.

On April 7, 2011 a man wearing a hat and sunglasses robbed a flower shop in Fayetteville in the morning. He handed the cashier a note that demanded money and claimed that he had a gun. She gave him the money and he ran away.

Later that afternoon, the same man robbed a drug store in Fayetteville. This time there was no note. He told the cashier he had a gun. He grabbed the money from the register and again ran away.

The next day he robbed two places in Henry County and a few days later he committed two robberies in Clayton County. That is where he was caught.

The robberies created quite a stir in Fayetteville. Everybody felt like we had been slapped in the face.

We couldn’t try him until he was finished in the other two jurisdictions. Finally, this week we got our crack at him.

The defense used an unusual strategy. They admitted he was the robber. They just denied that the crime should be armed robbery. It was a ploy to receive a far less severe sentence.

The strategy had worked for him so far. Even though he handed a note to a lady demanding her money, Clayton County let him plead guilty to aggravated assault and receive a four-year sentence. Henry County reduced his two armed robberies to one robbery by intimidation and he got a 20-year sentence.

I met with our victims. Both are young ladies. One was four months pregnant when he robbed her. The other now has one-year-old twins. I wanted this guy to pay the complete price for what he did to these mothers. Nobody should be allowed to commit two armed robberies in one town in the same day. His lawyer asked for a plea to robbery by intimidation. We refused.

So we went to trial.

Could we win two armed robbery counts when there was no weapon actually used? The jury couldn’t be told that he had these other convictions. Or, that he is a convicted child molester. Or that he had threatened to commit “suicide by cop.”

The law permits a conviction “if the acts of the defendant created a reasonable apprehension on the part of the victim that a weapon was present and being used.” Did he do that when he handed the note to the first lady? Is that what happened when he told the other victim he had a gun? We thought so.

The jury did, too. They presented a note of their own. It said, “Guilty of Armed Robbery.” Twice. Then the judge told this child predator and serial robber that he could serve 40 years in prison after he finishes the sentences in the other jurisdictions.

In April of 2011 he had slapped Fayette County in the face. This week Fayette slapped back.