After days of jury selection, the joint murder trial of the man accused of killing jewelry shop manager Steve Toms and his armed robbery trial with an alleged accomplice finally got underway Thursday, but it didn’t get far.
Opening arguments began at 1:45 p.m., and by day’s end, jurors had heard testimony in only one of the five armed robberies involving an alleged ring of suspects that included Michael Jerome “Big Smoove” Johnson and Dimitrius “Slim Deezy” Gordon.
Johnson is accused of killing Toms on Nov. 15, 2011 while robbing the Gold & Silver Trading Center at 3717 Gentian Blvd. He and Gordon together are charged in two other armed robberies.
Witnesses in one of the latter cases took the stand Thursday: Two women who work at the Diamond Exchange, 4227 Victory Drive, recalled how two gunmen wearing bandanas over their faces, black hooded sweatshirts and black pants burst into the business soon after 3 p.m. on May 5, 2012.
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“They were in before we realized they were there,” one woman recalled.
The employee who worked at the shop’s jewelry counter said she tried to run, but the smaller of the two robbers caught her and ordered her to lie on the floor. She said she had to crawl to follow his commands to open display cases holding watches and jewelry, which the robber placed in a bag hung on his shoulder.
A customer came in during the robbery and also was ordered to lie on the floor, she said.
The taller robber, who appeared to be in charge because he shouted orders to the smaller man, took the second worker to a gun case and ordered her to put 36 handguns in a bag he had, the employee said.
“Now you’ve got to give me the money,” she said he told her before escorting her to the rear of the store, where he took cash from a safe. She said he bound her wrists behind her back with a zip-tie and made her lie on the floor.
“Let’s go,” the larger robber told his accomplice, and they ran to a black car outside.
A tally of the store’s losses showed the robbers got more than $51,000 in jewelry, $11,000 in guns, $4,000 in cash and $3,000 in watches, witnesses said.
Neither witness could identify Johnson or Gordon, having seen only the robbers’ eyes over the bandanas. The women could describe only each man’s stature, one skinny and 5-foot-6 or 5-foot-7, the other taller and thicker, about 6 feet or 6-foot-1, with broad shoulders — proportions similar to those of Johnson and Gordon.
Johnson’s attorney J. Mac Pilgrim elicited testimony that Johnson visited the Diamond Exchange the following July to pawn a watch, implying such conduct would not be typical of someone who robbed the store two months before.
Gordon’s attorney, Jennifer Curry, confirmed the witnesses could not identify the men who robbed them because of the bandanas and hoodies.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley told jurors Johnson and Gordon were among six suspects who in 2012 carried out robberies that were “almost flawlessly executed” with “military precision.”
Besides the Diamond Exchange and the Gold & Silver Trading Center, Johnson and Gordon face charges in the April 11, 2012, armed robbery of the Winn-Dixie store at 5750 Milgen Road.
The pair already have pleaded guilty in the Aug. 22, 2012, armed robbery of the La Mexicana de Columbus restaurant and grocery at 3305 Victory Drive, for which Johnson was sentenced to 20 years in prison and Gordon to 10.
Others in the alleged robbery ring already have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution. Among them are suspects in the April 2, 2012, armed robbery of a Winn-Dixie at 1627 S. Lumpkin Road. Neither Johnson nor Gordon is charged in that case.
Cooley, who said the robbers followed the same method of operation in each case, told jurors the men worked quickly: The Diamond Exchange robbery took 4 minutes and 20 seconds; the Milgen Road Winn-Dixie robbery took 3 minutes; and the La Mexicana robbery was over in 2 minutes and 50 seconds.
“That’s fast,” Cooley said.
The trial’s to resume at 10:30 a.m. today in Judge William Rumer’s Government Center courtroom.