Prosecutor describes fatal shooting at 5 Corner Lotto store in opening statement
Jalontaye Clay Cleveland blamed the verdict on an accomplice who testified against him. Courtney Trumaine Williams blamed it on an unfair trial.
Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters was not impressed with either excuse Thursday as he sentenced both men to life without parole after a jury found them guilty of murder in a 2016 shooting at Columbus’ 5 Corner Lotto store on Linwood Boulevard.
After a trial that lasted nearly three weeks, the jury deliberated about eight hours Wednesday and Thursday before delivering the verdict around 3:30 p.m., finding the pair guilty of multiple felony counts in both the 5 Corner Lotto case and a string of armed robberies reported between Oct. 10, 2016 and Jan. 18, 2017.
Vastal Patel, 23, was shot and killed during an attempted robbery in which his father was wounded shortly before 10 p.m. Nov. 6, 2016, outside the 1231 Linwood Blvd. business.
“It was supposed to be my day to work,” Patel’s tearful fiancée Rebecca Patel told Peters before the sentencing. Both worked at the store regularly, but that day was her son’s birthday, so Vastal Patel worked her shift so she could be home with her son.
He was a good man who did not deserve what happened, she said: “He took care of his parents. He took care of me and my children.”
Each defendant’s mother also addressed the court, with Cleveland’s mother saying she always tried to keep her son out of trouble, taking him to church and involving him in activities to keep him off the street. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she repeated, before telling Cleveland, “I love you with all my heart.”
Williams’ mother said she also took her son to church, and tried to keep him out of trouble. “I’m just asking the court to have mercy on him,” she told the judge.
Each defendant apologized to the Patel family, but expressed no more remorse.
Cleveland, 20, said he was taking the fall for Dominique Collins, a codefendant who testified against him. Collins pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a plea deal.
“Everything he does, it always falls back on me,” Cleveland said. “I never thought my friend would do me like this. Now I feel like everybody looks at me like a menace to society, but I’m not a bad person.”
Said Williams, 28: “I feel like we were not given a fair trial … . We’ve been found guilty of something we didn’t do.”
The justice system was weighted against them, he said. “There’s no way we can win,” he told Peters. “We got our lives taken away because someone else’s life got taken away … . We’re coming back on appeal. We’re not murderers.”
Referencing their mothers’ talk of taking their sons to church, Peters compared the two men to Robert Louis Stevenson’s character “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” saying they were angelic in church and devilish in their crime spree.
“I think you’re a couple of thugs, and you need to be in jail,” the judge said. “This was a consistent pattern.”
Prosecutor Don Kelly asked Peters to sentence the two to life without parole, noting the effect of their violence not only on the Patels, but other victims traumatized by being assaulted and robbed.
Having watched his son die during the 5 Corner Lotto shooting, Vastal Patel’s heartbroken father moved back to India, after recovering from a gunshot wound to his abdomen.
A store owner wounded in a robbery on Weems Road closed his store down and moved out of town, Kelly said. Another store clerk who was beaten and kidnapped during a robbery also left town, and authorities later could not locate him to summon him to court, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Jennifer Curry, who with Barry Debrow represented Cleveland, asked for a life sentence with parole, for which Cleveland would have been eligible after 30 years.
“Everyone has a hope of rehabilitation and redemption,” she said. Cleveland was only 17 when he was arrested, she added: “He hasn’t had an opportunity to become a man.”
Attorney William Kendrick, who represented Williams along with Anthony Johnson and Adam Deaver, also asked for parole, noting Williams has three children he wants to go home to.
“That wasn’t a priority when he was holding a gun to people’s heads,” Peters replied.
Besides finding the two men guilty of murder, aggravated assault and attempted armed robbery in the 5 Corner Lotto case, the jury found Cleveland and Williams guilty in most of the other robberies, with a few exceptions:
- Cleveland was found guilty of armed robbery in an Oct. 10, 2016, incident at a UR Choice store that was off Hilton Avenue. Williams was found not guilty in that case.
- Both were found guilty of armed robbery and aggravated assault in an Oct. 15, 2016, incident at a Weems Road store where the owner was wounded.
- Both were found guilty of armed robbery and kidnapping in an Oct. 22, 2016, incident at the M&P Food Mart on St. Mary’s Road.
- Both were found guilty of armed robbery in a Jan. 13, 2017 incident at the ABC Food Mart on South Lumpkin Road.
- Williams was found guilty of armed robbery in a second UR Choice case from Jan. 18, 2017, but Cleveland was acquitted on that count.
Williams was also charged with making terroristic threats to police Sgt. Anthony Locey on March 15, 2017. Locey was the lead investigator in the 5 Corner Lotto case. The jury found Williams not guilty on that count.
Also charged in the 5 Corner Lotto case and some of the other robberies was Joshua Tucker, 19, who like Collins, 20, pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for his testimony.