A codefendant in the La Mexicana armed robbery to which Steve Toms’ homicide suspect Michael Jerome Johnson has pleaded guilty also pleaded guilty today,
Dimitrious Gordon was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison on three counts of armed robbery and one of using a firearm to commit a crime in the Aug. 22, 2012, robbery of the restaurant and grocery at 3305 Victory Drive.
A third suspect, Jamar Warner, faces the same charges. His case still is pending.
Judge William Rumer sentenced Gordon to 15 years in prison on each robbery count, but gave him 10 years to serve concurrently, followed by five years on supervised probation.
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Rumer also ordered that Gordon and his codefendants repay $4,436 that is still missing from the $9,939 the victims believe was taken in the heist.
Gordon briefly addressed the court today, saying he apologized for the trouble he had caused the victims, three of whom were present for the plea.
Aided by surveillance video from the business, Columbus police arrested the three suspects just hours after the 9:58 a.m. robbery. The footage gave investigators a description of the getaway vehicle, a green 1999 Ford Expedition.
A patrol officer spotted the vehicle nearby and pulled over the driver, Johnson’s wife, who told him she'd just got the SUV back from her husband, police said.
Reciting prosecutors' account of the case, Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lambertus today said the patrol officer went to Johnson's Springfield Crossing apartment on North Lumpkin Road, about a quarter-mile from La Mexicana. Outside the officer heard voices and the sound of guns being unloaded, and called for backup.
Detective Joel McNeal arrived, and saw Johnson walk outside with a trash can containing La Mexicana receipts, Lambertus said.
Officers searched him and found $2,000 in his pocket. Police used Johnson's cell phone to call the people still inside the apartment and demand their surrender. They arrested Gordon, then 24, of Phenix City, and Warner, then 22, of Columbus. They found that Gordon also had $2,000 on him, the prosecutor said.
In the apartment they found black clothing matching witnesses' descriptions of what the robbers wore, and a rifle, a pistol and a revolver. Police previously said the rifle was an AK-47. One of the handguns was a .44-caliber, they said.
Today Lambertus said that when the three men stormed into the restaurant and grocery, Gordon jumped the front counter and held workers in the rear at gunpoint, ordering them to lie on the floor. Warner, armed with the revolver, kept watch at the front door, Lambertus said.
With the rifle, Johnson tried to force a worker into a rear office where the robber expected to find $25,000, the prosecutor said. Unable to get into the office, Johnson forced the worker to a safe from which he got the $9,939.
Lambertus said the robbers also forced a female customer to the floor and took her purse, though they relented when she begged them to return it. A second customer was robbed of his cell phone.
Johnson, now 29, pleaded guilty to the La Mexicana robbery on May 30. Rumer sentenced him to 20 years, 15 for the armed robbery and five for possession of a firearm while committing a felony.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly said Johnson since has been charged also in the armed robbery of the Diamond Exchange, 4227 Victory Drive. For that robbery, which occurred at 3:10 p.m. May 5, he faces charges of armed robbery, being a convicted felon with a firearm and using a firearm to commit a crime, Kelly said.
Johnson had a preliminary hearing Friday in the Toms murder case. There Detective Andrew Tyner testified that in informant's tip first led police to suspect Johnson in Toms' slaying, but later Johnson's own comments increased that suspicion and led to his arrest in the homicide.
While jailed for the La Mexicana de Columbus robbery, Johnson asked to speak to Tyner.
Tyner said Johnson told him he had an alibi for Nov. 15, 2011, the day Toms was gunned down at the Gold & Silver Trading Center, 3717 Gentian Blvd., which Toms managed. Johnson claimed he was at his mother’s home in Oakland Park, where he was living at the time because of issues with his wife. He told Tyner he remembered that because he got paid that day and owed his mother $200, which he repaid.
Tracing calls made on Johnson’s cell phone, police saw that the day of Toms’ slaying, Johnson’s calls had gone through a cell tower at Peachtree Mall and one at Macon and Avalon Roads, placing Johnson in the area of the Gold & Silver Trading Center at Gentian Boulevard and Reese Road, Tyner said.
Confronted with this, Johnson changed his alibi, Tyner said: Johnson claimed he had visited a University Avenue music studio where he recorded rap music, then got a friend to drive him back to his mother’s house. But the music studio had computerized records showing each time someone recorded there, and the records showed no entry for Johnson that day, Tyner said.
Later Johnson spoke with Tyner again, telling the detective he wanted to “close my books” on cases, Tyner said. Johnson said that when he arrived at his mother’s house about 9 p.m. the day of Toms’ homicide, his cousin Daequavian Solomon was outside waiting for him, and gave him this account of having committed the robbery and homicide:
Johnson said Solomon went in to rob the business and no one was up front. He heard someone ask “Who’s there?” and then Toms peeked out from the back. Seeing a gunman, Toms ran, but Solomon caught him and brought him back to the front counter, where Toms opened the register and gave the robber cash, Johnson said.
Solomon noticed a ring on Toms’ hand and demanded it. Toms refused to surrender it, then reached for a gun under the counter. Solomon shot him several times, Johnson told Tyner.
Johnson said the night of their meeting outside his mother’s house, he and Solomon walked from Oakland Park to the Riverwalk, where they smoked marijuana. There Solomon told him the make and model of the gun he used, which supposedly he threw into the river. Divers never found a gun, but Johnson’s description of it would have fit evidence police found at the crime scene, Tyner said.
Johnson sketched a diagram of the interior of the Gold & Silver Trading Center, though he claimed never to have been inside it, Tyner said. After the interview, Johnson made six calls from the Muscogee County Jail, which records outgoing telephone calls, Tyner testified.
Investigators discovered Johnson was telling friends to pass on a message about the “teardrop,” jail slang for a homicide. The message: If questioned, a friend of Johnson’s must tell police he drove Johnson home from the music studio the day Toms was killed, Tyner said.
“Say no more; say no less,” Johnson told friends, Tyner testified.
Under questioning from Johnson’s attorney, Robert Wadkins Jr., Tyner said police found no fingerprints placing Johnson at the crime scene and found no evidence tying him to the robbery or homicide when they searched his house in August 2012, when Johnson was arrested for the La Mexicana robbery.
Tyner told Wadkins the tipster had grown up with Solomon, and specifically mentioned the Toms’ homicide while talking about Solomon and “Big Smooth” -- Johnson's street name -- conducting area robberies. Solomon now is jailed on two counts of robbery in Russell County.