All Samuel Copeland wanted was some ground turkey and crab meat.
That’s why he went into Columbus’ 5750 Milgen Road Winn-Dixie store about 10:45 p.m. on April 11, 2012, a Wednesday, and walked back to the seafood counter.
That’s where he was standing when someone ran up behind and shoved him. Thinking the assailant wanted to fight, Copeland prepared to defend himself — until he saw the gun.
The gunman in a hooded sweatshirt called him a racial slur: “N----r, do you want to die tonight?” he asked Copeland.
Copeland replied that no, he did not. He noticed a second robber who was egging on the first, shouting, “Do it!”
He described this tense moment during testimony Tuesday in the murder trial of Michael Jerome “Big Smoove” Johnson and joint armed robbery trial of Johnson and Dimitrius Morris “Slim Deezy” Gordon. Both are charged in the Winn-Dixie robbery.
“I didn’t expect all this to happen,” Copeland told the court. “I know I was scared. My life was passing before my eyes.”
Telling the robbers they needn’t shoot, he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and slid it up the ice cream aisle, where a robber grabbed it and ran.
Copeland would never forget that. The iPhone was brand new: “It had just come out, so I was pissed off,” he testified. The phone later was tracked to Jacksonville, Fla., he said. He never got it back. The iPhone cost him $600; the bill for service came out to $2,000, he said.
“I have not been back in Winn-Dixie since that happened,” he said.
Another customer, Willie Sanders of Junction City, Ga., was in Columbus visiting his father at The Midtown Medical Center, and stopped at the Winn-Dixie on the way home. He said a gunman demanded his cell phone, an older flip-open model worth about $250, with no tracking system.
After the gunman walked off with his phone, Sanders saw a cashier lying on the floor, and realized the store was being robbed, he said. With no robbers in sight at that moment, he walked out, got in his car and went home, where he later called police, he said.
A more dramatic account came from a mother and daughter who weren’t even in the store. They were just pulling up outside, planning to use the Winn-Dixie’s copy machine, when the daughter got out of the truck and saw the robbers coming out of the store. She got back in the truck.
“Mom, something’s wrong,” she said.
Then the robbers came running out to get into a gray Toyota, one of them dropping coins from a bag he carried. As the robbers fled the parking lot, the mother decided to follow them in her Ford F-150 pickup, to try to get a tag number, she said.
The mother, Pamela Cooley, said she once worked at the grocery store and wanted to help if she could. She was following the Toyota when abruptly it stopped, a man got out of the passenger’s side and started shooting at her truck.
It was not the first time, said her daughter Samantha Cooley: She noticed as they followed the truck that a passenger on the driver’s side earlier stuck a gun out the window and fired at the truck.
When they were shot at a second time, the mother whipped into an apartment complex, then circled back to the Winn-Dixie to talk to the police.
Apparently the robbers soon chose to get off Milgen Road, too. In another apartment complex about two blocks from the Winn-Dixie, police later found coins, empty cash drawers and a mask used in the robbery, all scattered on the ground outside the apartment buildings.
A witness Monday testified that about $9,000 was taken in the heist.
Besides the Winn-Dixie, Johnson and Gordon also face charges in the May 5, 2012, armed robbery of the Diamond Exchange at 4227 Victory Drive.
Johnson alone is charged with murder and armed robbery in the 3717 Gentian Blvd. Gold & Silver Trading Center robbery that led to the fatal shooting of store manager Steve Toms on Nov. 11, 2011. Prosecutors have yet to present any evidence in that case.