Columbus man pleads not guilty to series of business robberies

John Arthur Morris
John Arthur Morris

A Columbus man accused of series of armed robberies in Georgia, Alabama and Florida that date back to January appeared in Columbus Recorder’s Court this morning.

John Arthur Morris, 47, pleaded not guilty to multiple charges stemming from four of the nine Columbus armed robberies he is accused of committing. No one was seriously injured in any of those incidents or the two in Florida and Alabama that police said he also committed.

Columbus Police Detective Wayne Fairbairn said an armed black man entered AutoZone at 6450 Flat Rock Road around 7:59 a.m. May 13 with a ski mask covering his face. He ordered the employees to go to the back of the store.

He used zip ties to bind their hands behind their backs and ordered one of them to retrieve money from the safe. He took more than $2,000 before fleeing the scene on foot.

Around 8 a.m. May 23, an individual entered the Auto Zone on Victory Drive and put a ski mask on in front of the store manager. After the manager of the store told the suspect that he had seen his face, the thief confronted two other employees with the firearm.

“He was walking into the back of the store but stopped short of going to the back of the store, because they were acting strange,” Fairbairn testified. “Then he fled the store on foot without getting any money.”

About 45 minutes later, that same individual went to the Advance Auto Parts at 1501 Manchester Expressway. He put on a mask after entering the store and then confronted employees with a handgun.

He stole money from the cash register and one of the employees before fleeing on foot, Fairbairn told the court.

A man who matched the same description of that suspect robbed the Golden Corral at 1505 Manchester Expressway around 11:20 p.m. July 1, according to police.

Authorities said a black man brandishing a firearm forced the occupants to the back of the restaurant before stealing a large sum of cash from the safe.

He also abducted the manager at gunpoint and forced her to drive him a few blocks away from the restaurant in her vehicle. She wasn’t harmed, authorities confirmed.

On July 16, the same individual robbed the AutoZone at 6450 Flat Rock Road a second time. He executed the armed robbery the same way he did when he targeted the business on May 13.

Police said Morris’ fingerprints were lifted from the crime scene at the Golden Corral. Witnesses from that incident as well as the others identified Morris as the assailant, Fairbairn told the court.

When authorities were searching for the defendant, he was allegedly linked to 11 armed robberies, including one in Phenix City and another in Kissimmee, Fla. He was also wanted by the FBI on a warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

According to the FBI, he would often force his victims to a back room or office and restrain them with zip ties or telephone cords, which led Columbus police to link him to the AutoZone robbery.

Morris was arrested on Aug. 22 during a traffic stop in Mississippi.

Represented by Public Defender Charles Lykins, Morris didn’t testify in court.

The charges he faced this morning included four counts each of kidnapping, false imprisonment, aggravated assault as well as one count of armed robbery, criminal attempt armed robbery, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Morris was ordered to remain held in the Muscogee County Jail after being denied bond on many of the charges. The case was bound over to Superior Court.

Today’s hearing was held nearly a month after he pleaded not guilty to two counts of armed robbery and one count of kidnapping stemming from two of those nine Columbus incidents.

Sarah Robinson: 706-571-8622, @sarahR_92