Mastermind behind crime
Armed bank robber gets life in prison
by Wes Mayer
Lennard Walcott Simmons, accused of plotting an armed robbery in Newnan in September 2012, was sentenced to life in prison without parole Tuesday.
Simmons, the third suspect in the armed robbery of the Jefferson Street BB&T that occurred on Sept. 17, 2012, was the defendant in a trial that began on Sept. 24 and ended Friday. The jury found Simmons guilty of one count of armed robbery on Monday, and because this is the second time Simmons has been found guilty of armed robbery, he was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday.
“I think the jury made the right decision,” said Assistant District Attorney Herb Cranford, who led the prosecution. “It was a long trial. The jury went through the evidence thoroughly, took it all seriously, and I am personally satisfied with the result and sentencing.”
The case was prosecuted by Coweta Judicial Circuit assistant district attorneys Cranford and Kierston Phillips, and Sgt. Jim Beneke with the Newnan Police Department led the investigation. Simmons was defended by Mac Pilgrim with The Pilgrim Law Group, and Superior Court Judge Quillian Baldwin presided.
The prosecution centered around the accusations of the two other men involved in the robbery, Cedric Barber and Demetrius Malone. Barber and Malone both accused Simmons of manipulating them into robbing the bank and claimed the robbery was entirely Simmons’ idea.
Both Barber and Malone were caught red-handed in the robbery of the BB&T, and both pled guilty with plea deals prior to Simmons’ trial. Barber, who was arrested by authorities inside the bank, revealed everything to investigators a few days after his arrest. Malone, who was arrested by authorities while attempting to jump the fence into the Wishbone restaurant’s parking lot, waited until this summer to speak to investigators.
Barber and Malone were the hands-on robbers of the bank, kidnapping two bank tellers — at gunpoint (the gun turned out to be fake) — at the front door in order to force their way into the bank and steal cash from the bank’s vault. Simmons was supposed to be the getaway driver.
Around 8:26 that morning, a witness called 911 to report the robbery, and being so close to the Newnan Police Department, the robbery was quickly stopped. Simmons was later arrested in his home on Sept. 29, 2012, and charged as party to the crime of armed robbery and two counts of kidnapping.
In the trial, Simmons’ defense claimed he could not have possibly been present for the crime because he was home between 8-9 a.m., and he took his son to a doctor’s appointment after 9. Also, when Simmons dropped off Barber and Malone downtown, he claimed to have no idea they would be committing a robbery. The defense called multiple witnesses, including the two women with whom Simmons lives and Simmons’ son, to support the claims.
The prosecution brought forth more than 40 pieces of evidence and called 20 witnesses to the stand, including Newnan Police Department officers, Beneke and Deputy Chief Rodney Riggs, the two bank tellers who were victims of kidnapping, and the two co-defendants, Barber and Malone.
The prosecution used video surveillance of the three men meeting the morning of the robbery around 6:40 a.m. at the McDonald’s restaurant on Bullsboro Drive, validated phone records of contact between the men and statements from Barber and Malone who testified against Simmons. In addition, no records of a doctor’s appointment for Simmons’ son were ever discovered, and the office where the appointment was supposedly made did not open until 10:30 a.m. that morning.
After deliberating on Monday, the jury found Simmons to be guilty of armed robbery. Simmons was found not guilty of the kidnapping charges, but because he was found guilty of a previous armed robbery in Maryland, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Superior Court Judge Emory Palmer issued the verdict to Simmons on Tuesday.
Barber and Malone were both found guilty of their charges in earlier trials and are currently serving time in prison. Barber was sentenced 12 years in prison followed by five years probation, and Malone was sentenced 13 years in prison followed by seven years probation.
“Everybody in the [district attorney’s] office put in a lot of hard work for this trial,” Cranford said, “and I am happy the two victims got the justice they deserve.”