Man guilty in robbery
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jul 1, 2014, 16:30
HOPEWELL — A 24-year-old man was found guilty and a jury recommended 11 years in prison on Friday for the robbery of the City Point Food Land in Hopewell.
Larry Jones, with addresses in Virginia and North Carolina, was charged with the robbery on October 23 of last year. He was also charged with use of a firearm by a felon in the first degree, shooting a gun in an occupied dwelling and wearing a mask in public.
Through a Korean interpreter, Tae Jin Lee, who along with his wife, own City Point Food Land, told the jury the events that transpired that afternoon.
Lee said Jones came into the store about 15 minutes prior to the robbery. Along with Lee’s testimony and video surveillance shown in court, Jones walked into the store in the afternoon of Oct. 23. He walked around the perimeter of the store then stopped right beside the front door, close to the checkout counter, before leaving.
In his first visit, Jones was wearing a gray and purple striped hooded sweatshirt. In another video, a man can be seen coming into the store and pointing a gun at Lee. The person was wearing a darker colored hooded sweatshirt and a mask covering half of his face.
Lee told the jury he knew that it was Jones because not only did he remember Jones coming into the store prior to the incident, he had been a frequent shopper.
Lee also said he recognized Jones’ eyes and his voice.
“Just because I didn’t give him the money fast enough he took a shot,” Lee said. “He pointed the gun, turned and shot it.”
Lee also admitted to the jury that he thought Jones was joking at first because not only had Jones just been in the store but was a regular customer. He said this was why he took his time giving Jones the money he demanded.
Lee also said he thought the gun was a toy gun until Jones, not looking behind him, raised the gun and fired towards the wall.
“At first I thought it was a toy gun until I heard the shot,” Lee said. “That’s when I hurried to get the money for him.”
Detective Mark Columbo, with the Hopewell Police Department, said Lee picked Jones out of a photo lineup two days after the robbery. Columbo said Lee told him that the same person who robbed him was the same person who was in his store 15 minutes prior to the incident. Columbo said after reviewing the video footage, the police were able to identify Jones.
The jury was also shown the taped interview with Jones a few days after the robbery. Jones told the detectives he had no idea what was going on, saying he just came up from North Carolina with his brother.
“I went to see my girl. I don’t know what the [profanity] is going on,” Jones said during the interview with police. “I don’t ever think about robbing a store. That’s the least on my mind.”
Jones told detectives he was there to see his nephew play a football game and visit his girlfriend, who lived in Thomas Rolfe Court.
Officers also searched the girlfriend’s apartment where Jones had been staying and found the striped sweatshirt seen in the video along with a dark blue sweatshirt.
“I came to see my girlfriend and in the midst of seeing her. ... I’m just speechless,” Jones said in the taped interview. “How did you get in the house. I don’t know that person [who robbed City Point Food Land.]
After a line of questioning, he finally admitted he had been in the store earlier that day to look at hair care products but left because he did not find what he needed. Upon further investigation, Jones was arrested on October 30, a week after the robbery.
Kiesha Conner, 27, Jones’ girlfriend, testified at the trial on Friday. She told the jury that the striped sweatshirt was Jones’ but that the dark colored sweatshirt belonged to her god-brother, Joseph. She said that on the day of the robbery she was at work, saying there was no way Jones could have stayed at her apartment in Thomas Rolfe Court.
Conner said she had only key to her apartment and said she did not make copies. Though she moved out of the apartment in November of last year, Conner still had the key in her possession and showed it to the jury.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Elbert Mumphery IV said this case boils down to a person’s identity. Mumphery said Jones tried to change his identify not only during the robbery but in the days following.
“You cannot change who you are no matter how hard you struggle,” Mumphery told the jury. “... We all have distinctive characteristics that make us unique.”
Paul Roskin, the defense attorney for Jones, said the commonwealth did not have a strong enough case against his client. He said Lee was clearly mistaken on the robber, noting that Lee probably had him confused with another young, African American male.
“The only thing he [Lee] can see is what we can see,” Roskin said referring to the surveillance video. “A man with a mask covering half of his head ... once we lock it in and think we have the right guy, it seems like the evidence will follow.”
Roskin also said it seems like common sense for a robber to hide the only piece of evidence linking him to the crime, in this case the dark colored sweatshirt, as police did not find the weapon in this case.
“What is it doing in the girlfriend’s closet a week later,” Roskin asked the jury. “It makes very little sense to leave the one item that could link him to the crime. There’s no other evidence and there’s no other witnesses.”
After being in deliberations for a little over an hour, the jury came back with a verdict of guilty on all charges. Jones hung his head after the verdict was read and kept it down the remainder of his time in court.
Conner’s mother testified after the verdict before the jury began deliberations on sentencing. She said when she heard of Jones’ arrest for the robbery, she was “surprised” saying the behavior was very out of character.
She said that Jones not only helped take care of her daughter’s five other children, but was also getting ready to help parent a child. Conner, who has been with Jones for over a year, recently gave birth to Jones’ child, who is now five-months-old. Jones has been in jail for nine months.
“I actually thought he was going to get off,” she said.
Before the sentencing, Mumphery said the behavior of Jones was “escalating,” noting the nature of his crimes was becoming increasingly worse.
Jones has four prior felony convictions, two convictions of breaking and entering and two grand larceny convictions.
“He came to this court with a more minimal record than most people who commit this type of crime,” Roskin said.
The jury, who were in deliberations for almost three hours for the sentencing, returned a recommended sentence of 11 years for Jones. The jury recommended a sentence of six years for the robbery charge, three years for the charge of using a firearm, one year for firing a handgun in an occupied dwelling and one year for wearing a mask in public.
The formal sentencing for Jones will be in August.