A Columbus jury is weighing the fate of two men on trial for a series of five armed robberies and two smash-and-grab break-ins targeting neighborhood stores here in the fall of 2018.
But those seven cases were about half the incidents police thought were related at the time, a detective told the court on the trial’s last day of testimony Monday.
Police Sgt. Dawn Tuning testified that investigators were probing a string of 16 robberies or break-ins that began on Aug. 31 and ended Oct. 17, 2018.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly said authorities believe the suspects accused in the seven incidents related to the trial perpetrated all of those crimes, but prosecutors chose to pursue the cases with the best evidence.
Police charged four suspects in the robbery ring before two agreed to testify and plead guilty afterward. The two defendants on trial are Montavious Travon “Money” Ogletree, 23, and Amileus Keyshone “Mick Mick” Thomas, 24.
Ogletree is charged with two counts each of armed robbery and of smash-and-grab burglary.
Thomas is charged with five counts of armed robbery, two of smash-and-grab burglary and one of aggravated assault.
The suspects testifying against them were Victoria Lashay Thomas, 31 — Amileus Thomas’ sister — and Rashid Lamon Ricks, 35, Victoria Thomas’ boyfriend and the father of one of her seven children.
Victoria Thomas and Ricks testified on Friday, identifying Amileus Thomas and Ogletree as the masked men robbing or breaking into the businesses. But they insisted Victoria Thomas participated in only one robbery, where she was recorded by security cameras acting as a scout watching the store close, before her brother and Ogletree robbed it.
In cases accusing Victoria Thomas of being one of the masked robbers, she and Ricks insisted someone else was involved.
In his closing argument Monday, Kelly told jurors the couple don’t want Victoria Thomas to go to prison, separating her from their months-old daughter.
“I think Mr. Ricks is trying to protect the mother of his child,” Kelly said.
Still she is to serve time, because the plea deal offered in exchange for her testimony was 15 years, with 10 to serve and the rest on probation, she testified. She is charged with three counts of armed robbery and one count each of theft by receiving stolen property, and being a convicted felon with a firearm.
Ricks testified that prosecutors offered him a 20-year sentence with 10 to serve in prison. He faces the same charges.
The seven cases
Here are the seven incidents at trial:
A Sept. 25 smash and grab burglary at Zelmo’s Zip In, 3651 Weems Road, where two intruders threw a rock through the glass door and stole lottery tickets. Ogletree and Montavious Thomas are charged.
A second Sept. 25 smash and grab burglary at a Zelmo’s Zip In at 4001 Miller Road, about a mile away from the first, where more lottery tickets were taken. Ogletree and Montavious Thomas are charged.
A Sept. 25 armed robbery at Veterans Grocery, 739 Veterans Parkway. Ogletree and Montavious Thomas are charged.
A Sept. 27 armed robbery at Nick’s Food Mart, 5018 Hamilton Road. All four suspects are charged.
An Oct. 2 armed robbery at Veterans Grocery. Ricks and the Thomas siblings are charged.
An Oct. 17 armed robbery at Floyd Food & Lottery, 1600 Floyd Road. Ricks and the Thomas siblings are charged.
An Oct. 17 armed robbery at Ray’s Food Mart, 3822 Hamilton Road. Ricks and the Thomas siblings are charged.
A week after the Ray’s Food Mart robbery, Columbus police searched an apartment Ricks and Victoria Thomas shared at 543 Third Ave., finding multiple pieces of evidence, including guns, masks, gloves, bags and clothing used in the crimes, plus lottery tickets stolen from the Zelmo’s stores.
But attorneys for those on trial disputed whether police could tie that evidence to their clients, noting investigators could not prove that Amileus Thomas or Ogletree ever stayed at the apartment.
That Ricks and Victoria Thomas claimed the two men on trial brought those items to there is not sufficient, the attorneys said, because those suspects would want to blame others, to dodge responsibility.
Anthony Johnson, who represents Amelius Thomas, told jurors police had no evidence to show Thomas lived with his sister and her boyfriend: no bills or other correspondence delivered to him there, no name on a lease, no DNA, no fingerprints, and no surveillance to show him coming or going.
Police saw the name “Amelius” spelled in magnetic letters stuck to the apartment’s refrigerator, but anyone could have done that, Johnson said.
Allen Jones, who represents Ogletree, noted the same for his client, adding in his closing argument that police also presented no cell phone tracking to show Ogletree was near the apartment or the targeted businesses.
He noted also that testimony from Ricks and Victoria Thomas, both convicted felons, did not entirely match, and that was enough “reasonable doubt” for jurors to acquit his client, he said.
“Their own stories are not consistent with each other,” he said. “That is doubt.”
After closing arguments ended Monday and Judge Bobby Peters instructed jurors on the law they must apply to the evidence, jury deliberations began Tuesday morning.