It was a tale of two Winn-Dixie robberies Wednesday in the murder trial of Michael Jerome "Big Smoove" Johnson and armed robbery trial of Johnson and codefendant Dimitrius Morris "Slim Deezy" Gordon.
The two are accused of being involved in a robbery gang that was linked to five armed robberies, two in which former codefendants already have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
Three of the suspects who've pleaded guilty took the witness stand Wednesday to answer questions about the April 2, 2012, armed robbery of the Winn-Dixie at 1627 S. Lumpkin Road and the April 11, 2012, robbery of the Winn-Dixie at 5750 Milgen Road.
The last was more successful than the first.
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Neither Johnson nor Gordon is charged in the April 2 robbery, but evidence in that case was presented to show a pattern in how the robbery gang operated.
Three witnesses Wednesday were charged in that case, and each has pleaded guilty. They were Jockas Gilchrist, Xavier Bell and Sidney Person.
Gilchrist testified that he, Person, Bell and Theodore Alexander went to the South Lumpkin Road store on April 2 planning to rob it, but Gilchrist called the scheme off when he ran into an old acquaintance, a woman who told him she was working for the police department.
So the men bought some snacks and left the store, meeting at a Video Warehouse nearby.
Later, when the store was closing, Gilchrist went back and tried to rob the manager, pulling a gun on him in the parking lot and ordering him to go back inside and open the safe.
This did not go as planned. Gilchrist said when they got to the office where the safe was located, the store's alarm system abruptly blared.
Startled, he fired his pistol into the floor as he turned to run, he said. He got no money.
On April 11, 2012, Bell was at Phenix Crossing apartments in Phenix City when Johnson drove up in a silver Toyota Corolla and others arrived in a blue Jeep Cherokee, Bell said. Johnson pulled out an automatic rifle he was showing to Person, and they began planning to rob the Milgen Road Winn-Dixie.
Bell said he rode to Columbus in the Jeep with Person and a driver he didn't know.
Gilchrist said he, Johnson, Gordon and two others took the Toyota, which Johnson drove.
They rendezvoused at an apartment complex near the store, and then the Jeep headed for the Winn-Dixie first, so Person could go in and scout it. While on a cellphone call with Johnson, Person checked the store and gave the others the "green light" to rob it, Person testified.
Person returned to the Jeep as the Toyota roared up to the store's front door and four men rushed inside.
Testimony showed they finished the robbery in just two minutes, from 10:46 to 10:48 p.m., taking $9,709 in cash and $1,149 in checks.
But this also did not go as smoothly as planned. First three of the robbers went to the wrong office, where the night manager tried to tell them the safe was in another room, but they shouted him down.
The delay annoyed Johnson, who came in with the rifle to hurry them up, the witnesses said.
He fired the rifle over the manager's head and ordered them to take the manager to the other office, where they cleaned out the safe and cash trays left on a desk, they said.
Their getaway was problematic. As they headed back to the 5780 Milgen Road Stratford Lane apartments where they'd met before, Gordon kept dropping money, Gilchrist testified. Also they were being followed by two witnesses in a truck who'd seen them leave the store.
Gilchrist said at one point they stopped, and Gordon again dropped money, and set his pistol down to gather the loot. Gilchrist then grabbed the pistol and fired at the pickup truck that was following them, he testified.
Eventually they made their second rendezvous at the apartments, where they ditched evidence such as a mask and the cash drawers they'd emptied, and then they headed back to Phenix City.
During Person's testimony, prosecutors asked who supplied the weapons for the April 11 robbery. Person said Johnson provided all the guns.
That's when Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley played for the jury a music video featuring Johnson, Gordon and Person.
In the video titled "Hood Where I'm From," Johnson brandishes an automatic rifle and a pair of pistols.
Cooley has alleged Johnson used those weapons in robberies, and he used money from robberies to finance a music production company called RBN, which Person testified uses the N-word racial slur in the plural and means "Real Boss N-----s."
Johnson and Gordon together are charged in the April 11 Winn-Dixie robbery and a May 5, 2012, armed robbery at the Diamond Exchange, 4227 Victory Drive.
Johnson alone is charged with fatally shooting store manager Steve Toms during the Nov. 11, 2011, armed robbery of the 3717 Gentian Blvd. Gold & Silver Trading Center. So far prosecutors have presented no evidence in that case.