Alert probation officer helped police catch Dollar General robbers who pleaded guilty today

tchitwood@ledger-enqurier.comOctober 7, 2013 

When Yolanda Lee helped Darius Foster rob the Dollar General store at 3649 Victory Drive last November, a Columbus probation officer just happened to be nearby.

And he just happened to see a black Suzuki Forenza that matched what his police radio was broadcasting as a description of the robbers’ vehicle, so he got behind it, wrote down the tag number and reported it.

Investigators quickly learned that the Forenza belonged to Lee’s mother, and that her daughter and Foster had been using it. So police put pictures of Lee and Foster in a photo lineup and showed them to the clerk, who immediately picked out the pair. Store security cameras also had images of the two for police to compare to the photographs.

Lee, then 21, and Foster, who was 19 at the time, had robbed the store around noon on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, said Assistant District Attorney William Hocutt IV. The following Monday, Foster surrendered at noon at police headquarters, and officers arrested Lee at 2 p.m. at Wilson Apartments. Each was charged with armed robbery.

Hocutt reduced that to robbery while arranging for the pair to plead guilty today in Muscogee Superior Court. Judge John Allen sentenced Lee to serve eight years in prison and five on probation. Foster, also charged with using a gun to commit a crime, was sentenced to nine years in prison and 11 years on probation.

Hocutt described how they pulled off the heist: They visited the store that morning to check the layout, then came back later. While Foster came in and pretended to be browsing in the aisles, Lee distracted the clerk, bringing goods to the counter and asking questions, chatting until she said she was ready to pay for her purchases.

Then while the clerk wasn’t looking, Foster walked behind the checkout counter and pointed a gun, demanding money. Taking what cash they could get, they then ran to the Forenza and fled.

The payoff for robbing a Dollar General apparently is not much: Hocutt said Lee told police the pair split the loot, and she used her half to pay $40 on a power bill, $15 for cigarettes, and $10 to put gas in her mom’s car. She spent what was left on her kids, but could not recall how much that was, Hocutt said.

Besides the store surveillance video and the Forenza’s tag number, the evidence against the two included a “hoodie” or hooded sweatshirt Foster left in the back of the car, Hocutt said. It matched what the store security camera showed him wearing during the robbery, the prosecutor said.

Lee’s attorney, public defender Vicki Novak, asked Allen in sentencing her client to consider that Lee cooperated with detectives after her arrest and told them how she and Foster committed the robbery.

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