A Columbus jury took only two hours Tuesday to find two men not guilty of all charges in a string of seven store robberies or break-ins in the fall of 2018.
That means only the codefendants who testified against Montavious Travon “Money” Ogletree, 23, and Amileus Keyshone “Mick Mick” Thomas, 24, will go to prison for the crimes, as they agreed to plead guilty when the trial was over.
Columbus police believed the four suspects were responsible for up to 16 neighborhood store robberies or break-ins between August and October, 2018, but prosecutors chose to pursue the seven cases with the strongest evidence.
That evidence was not strong enough to convince 12 jurors that Ogletree and Thomas were guilty, the jurors told Thomas’ defense attorney Anthony Johnson after court adjourned Tuesday.
All the jurors remained after Judge Bobby Peters released them, wanting to speak with the lawyers, Johnson said, adding it was the first time an entire jury waited to talk to him.
They told him they did not believe the two people who also were charged in the crimes and testified against the two men on trial, and they did not think police proved Ogletree and Thomas committed the robberies and break-ins, despite multiple pieces of evidence that investigators recovered.
All that evidence was found in the codefendants’ home, an apartment on Third Avenue, a few blocks from one of the stores that was robbed twice.
The suspects living in the apartment at 543 Third Ave. were Victoria Lashay Thomas, 31, Amelius Thomas’ sister, and her boyfriend Rashid Lamon Ricks, 35, the father of one of Victoria Thomas’ seven children.
Believing Ricks’ black Lincoln Town Car had been used in some of the robberies, police tracked it to the apartment, where they served a search warrant on Oct. 24, 2018.
That’s when they found disguises, gloves and other clothing those perpetrating the crimes were recorded wearing on store security videos, as well as guns used in the robberies, stacks of stolen lottery tickets, and a pistol taken from one of the businesses, officers testified.
Ricks and Victoria Thomas were arrested after the search, which led to the later capture of Ogletree and Ameilius Thomas.
Though the prosecution witnesses claimed that Ogletree and Amelius Thomas had been at the apartment, and that Amelius Thomas had lived there with his sister and Ricks, the jury didn’t feel police proved that, Johnson said Wednesday.
“They didn’t trust the codefendants’ words. They felt like there could have been more done,” Johnson said. “There could have been DNA. There could have been some surveillance. There could have been something, especially with my guy, because no person ever said he was there, no neighbor, no surveillance, no nothing.”
The robbers wore masks and heavy clothing that completely covered their faces and other features, so prosecutors had to rely on the codefendants to identify them from the store videos.
Because the jurors did not feel that police proved a connection between the men on trial and the evidence found at the apartment, the credibility of the other two suspects was crucial, Johnson said.
But even prosecutors told jurors they believed the witnesses lied on the stand, because both swore that Victoria Thomas was not involved in any of the robberies, though she was charged in three cases and agreed to plead guilty.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly told jurors the witnesses were trying to deflect blame from Victoria Thomas, so a long prison sentence would not separate her from her children.
Johnson on Wednesday said jurors told him they simply did not believe Ricks or Victoria Thomas, though prosecutors showing the jury the store videos had no other eyewitnesses to say who the robbers were.
That made the videos seem repetitive and inconclusive, the attorney said: “So even though you have multiple videos, you don’ t actually have anybody identifying who’s in these videos other than Victoria Thomas and Rashid Ricks.”
He said some jurors were outraged when a detective testified that police didn’t request DNA testing on any of the gloves or masks used in the robberies, which could have tied that evidence to the men on trial. The detective said police didn’t request that because the testing is expensive.
‘A very big deal’
The trial testimony ended Monday, and jurors began deliberating at 9:25 a.m. Tuesday, announcing they had a verdict about 11:20 a.m., Johnson said.
Ogletree, represented by attorney Allen Jones, was just as relieved as Amelius Thomas to hear he had been found not guilty, and would soon be released from jail after being held four years for trial, Johnson said. Their families in the courtroom erupted with joy at hearing the jury’s decision, he said.
“When they know that their family member’s going to be home by the end of the week, it’s a very big deal,” he said. “Some of the family members were crying, and of course we were all kind of hugging each other.”
Yet neither of the two men had been released from jail Wednesday morning, Johnson said, because authorities had to resolve some paperwork issues first.
As they go free, their codefendants await a court hearing for their pleas and sentencings.
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, Victoria Thomas is to be sentenced to 15 years, with 10 to serve in prison and the rest on probation, she testified last week.
Facing the same charges, Ricks is to serve 10 years in prison and 10 more on probation, he testified.
The jury on Tuesday found Amelius Thomas not guilty on five counts of armed robbery, two of smash-and-grab burglary and one of aggravated assault. It found Ogletree not guilty on two counts each of armed robbery and of smash-and-grab burglary.
Here are the seven cases that went to trial:
A Sept. 25 smash and grab burglary at Zelmo’s Zip In, 3651 Weems Road. A second Sept. 25 smash and grab burglary at a Zelmo’s Zip In at 4001 Miller Road. A Sept. 25 armed robbery at Veterans Grocery, 739 Veterans Parkway. A Sept. 27 armed robbery at Nick’s Food Mart, 5018 Hamilton Road. An Oct. 2 armed robbery at Veterans Grocery, 739 Veterans Parkway. An Oct. 17 armed robbery at Floyd Food & Lottery, 1600 Floyd Road. An Oct. 17 armed robbery at Ray’s Food Mart, 3822 Hamilton Road.