Hung jury causes mistrial in 2011 armed robbery case

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comJune 20, 2014 

After about seven hours of literally heated deliberation during which one juror’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused him to drop out, the armed robbery case against Lonnie Ladale Ross ended Friday with a mistrial as the jury deadlocked.

Ross, 33, was accused of acting as the “mastermind” in a scheme to order pizza to a next-door neighbor’s house where no one was home and have two accomplices rob the deliveryman.

After Superior Court Judge Art Smith III declared the mistrial, Ross was returned to the Muscogee County Jail. Prosecutors have the option of retrying the case, but Ross also faces other, unrelated felony charges that could go to trial.

Jurors who began their deliberations Thursday later complained that the jury room on the west side of the Columbus Government Center’s seventh floor was unbearably hot. One was excused after telling Judge Smith his PTSD made remaining in the jury room intolerable. An alternate replaced him.

Smith dismissed the jury after declaring the mistrial about 2:20 p.m. Friday.

Also charged in the Dec. 9, 2011, armed robbery of then-Pizza Hut worker Terrell Floyd were Cortney Ramone Sayers and Demarkus Bennett, who pleaded guilty Monday morning before Ross’ trial started.

Floyd testified he was trying to deliver the food to a Bamboo Street address around 9 p.m., but couldn’t find it in the dark. He saw two guys standing under a big oak tree, so he stopped to ask them where the house was, and they pointed directly across the street.

Floyd said he was walking up to that house when he heard someone run up behind him. He turned to see the two men who’d given him directions, one pointing a silver-plated pistol at his head as the other took a wallet from his pants.

He said the gunman was pointing the pistol as if picking a spot to shoot him when the other robber said, “Hold on, Cort.” The two fled, and Floyd drove to a convenience store to call police.

A day or two later, he returned to the neighborhood to see if he could find the two, he said. That’s when a man came from the house next door to where the pizza was to have been delivered, walked over to Floyd and asked what he was doing.

When Floyd said he was looking for the men who robbed him, the guy asked what he would do if he found them, Floyd testified. Call the police, Floyd replied.

It was during this exchange that Floyd realized he was talking to the robber who’d held a gun on him. He asked the fellow’s name. “What do you want to know my name for?” the guy asked, walking away.

Floyd notified police, who identified that suspect as Sayers. Their investigation led to the subsequent arrests of all three suspects. Investigators also recovered the driver’s license, Social Security card and other items that were in Floyd’s wallet. Those were found in the glove compartment of Ross’ vehicle.

Police said Ross had been living with Sayers at the Bamboo Street residence.

All the robbers got was $30 cash Floyd carried to make change for customers, his wallet and cell phone, and two pizzas, some hot wings and bread sticks. Ross was charged with armed robbery and using a gun to commit a crime. His defense attorney, Cynthia Lane, argued the other two suspects pinned the crime on Ross to protect their own interests and gain leniency from prosecutors.

Sayers was sentenced to 10 years in prison for armed robbery and five years’ probation for using a firearm to commit a crime. Bennett, who pleaded guilty to robbery by force, was to have been sentenced after Ross’ trial.

Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lambertus later Friday said he saw no reason not to retry Ross. He said the jury deadlocked 10-2, but would not say which way.

A juror said the final vote was 10 in favor of acquitting Ross and two favoring finding him guilty.

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