02/06/04 — Robbers sentenced

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Robbers sentenced

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on February 6, 2004 2:03 PM

Four men who took part in a week-long string of armed robberies and were captured by Sheriff Carey Winders were sentenced Thursday to four to 14 years in prison.

A female accomplice also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery and was sentenced to a shorter prison term in Wayne County Superior Court.

The five men were captured minutes after a holdup of the Handy Mart convenience store at U.S. 70 West and N.C. 581. The sheriff was returning home after lifting weights and heard the dispatch about a robbery on his car radio. He chased the car.

Before the suspects stopped, they threw out Newport cigarettes that had been stolen from the store; a 9-millimeter handgun and its ammunition magazine used in the holdup, and a New York baseball cap and a T-shirt that one suspect had worn in that holdup and several others. Deputies recovered the items and then found three phones and ammunition in the car.

The five surrendered without incident as other officers arrived.

If not for the sheriff's intervention and the recovery of the property, authorities say that it would have been difficult to convict the robbers, because they were masked and several victims had refused to testify.

According to Assistant District Attorney Jan Kroboth, the robberies started like this:

Terrance Bell said he could not pay his probation fee and his child support, and Brando Cortez Young, suggested that he should rob a store. If he did, Young said, he should remove the surveillance videotape. Then, Darnell Battle said the four met and talked about robbing Southside Video on U.S. 117 South. The store was robbed Aug. 13.

The first robbery occurred Aug. 7 at H&A Mart at 3515 Central Heights Road.

Then came Moe's Convenience Store at 1003 S. John St. on Aug. 9, the Sounds music store at 724 E. Ash St. and the Southern Belle restaurant on N.C. 55 in Mount Olive on Aug. 12, and Southside Video and the Handy Mart on Aug. 13. The robbers got less than $300 in the holdups.

The four men all pleaded guilty to two counts of armed robbery in exchange for the dismissal of other charges. The two with criminal records received the longest sentences.

Mrs. Kroboth said several victims "were scared to death." She said the robbers were "four big shots with guns" and deserved long sentences.

A former clerk at the Handy Mart was so shaken by the robbery that his supervisor, Shorty Radford, told the court: "He no longer is able to function because of the circumstances of what these guys did. ƒ He couldn't deal with it any more."

Judge Jerry Braswell of Goldsboro said he took no pleasure in imposing the sentences but added that a civilized society could not have a lawless element.

Battle, 20, of South Carolina Street, pleaded guilty to the Sounds and Southside robberies. He was sentenced to a total of 10 to 14 years. Four counts of kidnapping and one count of armed robbery were dismissed.

Bell, 19, of Courtyard Circle, pleaded guilty to the Moe's and Handy Mart robberies. He received the same sentence. Four counts each of armed robbery and kidnapping were dismissed.

Young, 23, of South Slocumb Street, pleaded guilty to the holdups at H&A Mart and the Southern Belle. His sentence was nine to 12 years. Four counts of armed robbery and three counts of kidnapping were dismissed.

Braswell also recommended that Battle and Young receive work release after serving a year on the condition that 90 percent of their earnings go to the custodians of their children.

Rhodes, 19, of Woodland Acres Avenue, Dudley, pleaded guilty to the Handy Mart and Southern Belle robberies and conspiracy to commit robbery. One count of armed robbery and three counts of kidnapping were dismissed.

Rhodes' lawyer, Geoff Hulse of Goldsboro, said his client was "an exemplary young man" until one week in August. A good student with scholarship offers and a football quarterback at Spring Creek High School, Rhodes "had it all but lost it," Hulse said. He argued that his client deserved a lesser sentence because only one robbery charge, not four, was dismissed for him.

Braswell agreed and sentenced Rhodes to two simultaneous terms of 38 to 55 months on the robbery charges but added 15 to 27 months for conspiracy.

The woman, Shapora Grandy, 19, of Oak Street, was sentenced to 17 to 30 months. Her lawyer, Bruce Hulse, also argued for a lesser sentence. But Mrs. Kroboth said that every time Ms. Grandy wanted to talk about the case, "her memory became foggy."

The lead investigators were Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Dusty Johnson, Goldsboro Police Investigator Chad Calloway and Mount Olive Police Detective Sgt. Nathan Memmelaar.

Other defense lawyers were Louis Jordan for Battle, John Gomulka for Bell and Carroll Turner for Young.