UPDATE: The long-anticipated guilty plea of a fourth defendant in what started as a six-suspect robbery ring tied to Steve Toms' 2011 homicide came this morning as Theodore Alexander III pleaded to one charge of criminal attempt to commit a felony.
Alexander, who has agreed to testify for the prosecution, is facing five years' probation. His other charges stemming from an April 2, 2012, armed robbery of the Winn-Dixie store at 1627 S. Lumpkin Road have been dropped.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley said Alexander acted as a scout and lookout for the other robbers, entering the store to assess how many employees and customers were inside before leaving to alert his cohorts.
Defense attorney Richard Hagler said he would have disputed that, had Alexander gone to trial, because 40 to 45 minutes passed between Alexander's visiting the store and the subsequent robbery. The defense could have argued Alexander either was unaware of the impending robbery or had abandoned the venture, Hagler said.
Alexander's plea leaves Michael Jerome Johnson and Dimitrius Gordon to face trial. Johnson is charged with murder in the Toms' case, and he and Gordon together face charges in two other armed robberies.
Attorneys now are sifting through a pool of 70 potential jurors to pick 12 plus alternates for the trial.
Music videos featuring the two defendants will be among the evidence in the upcoming murder trial of Michael Jerome “Big Smoove” Johnson and armed robbery trial of Johnson and Dimitrius “Slim Deezy” Gordon, the judge decided Monday.
Johnson is charged with fatally shooting Columbus Gold & Silver Trading Center Manager Steve Toms while robbing the 3717 Gentian Blvd. business on Nov. 15, 2011. He and Gordon together are charged in the May 5, 2012, armed robbery of the Diamond Exchange, 4227 Victory Drive; and in the April 11, 2012, robbery of the Winn Dixie store at 5750 Milgen Road.
They are the last of six defendants facing charges in an alleged robbery ring investigators believe was responsible for five business robberies in 2011 and 2012.
Three of the others already have pleaded guilty, and fourth is cooperating with prosecutors and expected to plead.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Cooley pushed to get the music videos into evidence on claims they depict weapons Johnson and Gordon used in robberies and in one scene replicate the pattern in which the men carried out heists.
Cooley told Judge William Rumer that Johnson and Gordon were using money from the robberies to finance their music company RBN.
One of the music videos posted to YouTube, titled “Go Hard, Go Crazy,” shows Johnson and Gordon handling an automatic rifle and a .40-caliber pistol used in robberies, Cooley said.
The video also shows the green Ford Expedition that Johnson drove, she said.
WARNING: This video uses strong language
The Expedition was used in the Aug. 22, 2012, armed robbery of the La Mexicana de Columbus restaurant and grocery at 3305 Victory Drive. Johnson and Gordon already have pleaded guilty in that case, but Cooley wants to use it in the upcoming trial to show a pattern in how the robbers operated.
Johnson was sentenced to 20 years in prison and Gordon to 10 years for the La Mexicana robbery.
Cooley also plans to introduce evidence from a fifth robbery attributed to the gang that involved Johnson and Gordon. That’s the April 11, 2012, robbery of the Winn Dixie, 5750 Milgen Road.
Also indicted in that case were Sidney Person, Xavier Bell and Jockas Gilchrist, but those three have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
They and another defendant, Theodore Alexander III, also were indicted in the April 2, 2012, armed robbery of a Winn-Dixie grocery store at 1627 S. Lumpkin Road. Alexander has yet to plead guilty, but Cooley said Monday that he also is cooperating with prosecutors.
The trial was to begin Monday, but attorneys still were in pretrial hearings on what evidence would be admitted. Among those issues were crime-scene and autopsy photos from Toms’ homicide.
Johnson’s attorney J. Mac Pilgrim moved that the photos not be shown the jury. He said the defense would stipulate to the site and manner of Toms’ death, and witness testimony would be sufficient to establish the facts without photographs, which would serve only to “inflame the passions” of jurors and prejudice them against the defendants.
Rumer ruled against Pilgrim on the crime-scene photos, but left selecting autopsy photos up Pilgrim and Cooley.
The attorneys’ arguments over the photos gave details of what jurors likely will see: Pilgrim said Toms was shot multiple times with a .45-caliber pistol, including once in the face at close range. Cooley said a cocked and loaded handgun was beside the body, which had been there long enough for blood to coagulate around a nearby water bottle.
The shot to Toms’ face was at such close range that it left “stipling” or residue from the gunpowder and other debris emitted when a gun’s fired.
Store owner Bob Upchurch found Toms’ body around 8:45 a.m. Nov. 16, 2012, but police believe the manager was killed the previous day, sometime after 5:33 p.m. when he talked to someone on the telephone. He typically closed the shop at 6 p.m.
With pretrial motions decided Monday, jury selection is expected to begin this morning when court reconvenes at 9 a.m.