Getaway driver found guilty of armed robbery
by Wes Mayer
Ayinde Khalil Pearson, the man accused of being the getaway driver for two armed robberies last August, was found guilty on four of six charges by a Coweta Superior Court jury.
The jury had continued deliberations Monday after a break in the trial, which was continued from Friday.
Pearson was found guilty of three counts of armed robbery and one count of criminal attempt to commit armed robbery. He was found not guilty of one count of armed robbery and not guilty of aggravated assault. After the verdict was read Monday, Superior Court Judge Emory Palmer sentenced Pearson to 50 years with 30 to serve in prison.
“This trial is a culmination of a huge inter-agency effort,” said Trey Reeves, one of the Coweta County assistant district attorneys who prosecuted the case. “Everybody came together and did a great job gathering all the resources for the trial.”
Reeves said all the agencies involved worked together as a team, including authorities in Meriwether and Heard counties, along with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office and the Newnan Police Department.
Reeves was especially grateful for the case’s lead investigator, Mark Callahan, and for the work of Coweta County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Trent Hastings, who pulled over Pearson, and Deputy Randy Mickle, who connected the handgun found in Pearson’s possession to one of the robberies and aggravated assaults. Reeves also thanked District Attorney’s Office Investigator David Parten.
Pearson was the only defendant to remain in the trial, which began on May 27. The case was prosecuted by assistant district attorneys Reeves and Kevin McMurry, and an intern with the office, Drew Case, also examined witnesses. Pearson was defended by attorney Andrew Garland from Villa Rica.
Pearson’s two co-defendants, Donquerius Lamonte Mahone and Deandrez Sherod White, both pleaded guilty in negotiated plea deals during the trial last week and were sentenced to 40 years with 22 to serve. However, both also openly admitted to committing perjury when they were called as witnesses, so they’ll likely be indicted on those charges. The fourth defendant, Reggie Jerome Crowder, pleaded guilty before the trial began. He was sentenced to 30 years with 18 to serve.
The four men were all accused of being responsible for numerous armed robberies in Coweta, Heard and Meriwether counties. Two of the robberies ended with the men shooting at people pursuing them – the first time was a Hogansville Police Officer and the second was a 17-year-old girl from Newnan. Neither the officer nor the 17-year-old were injured.
Pearson was charged with two of the robberies in the Newnan area that occurred in August. One robbery was of Tienda del Valle on Farmer Street in Newnan. The other robbery occurred at Carniceria del Valle on Turkey Creek Road. In the second robbery, the men who went inside the store, Mahone and Crowder, also robbed three customers.
After that robbery, the store owner’s 17-year-old daughter attempted to pursue the robbers’ vehicle – driven by Pearson – in an attempt to get a license plate description. Mahone and Crowder, however, both fired back at the 17-year-old, striking the vehicle’s windshield and front grill.
Pearson was pulled over by Deputy Hastings a few days after the robbery, and during this stop, a .32 caliber handgun was found in Pearson’s possession. This gun, with the help of Deputy Mickle, Coweta County investigators and analysts with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, was determined to be the same gun used by Crowder during the robbery and shooting.
On Friday, McMurry and Reeves called to the stand Hastings, Mickle, GBI firearms analyst expert Kyle Wheelis and the former defendants, White and Crowder. White, who pleaded guilty the day before, said he knew nothing about the robberies, and only vaguely knew someone named Crowder. White said he was under the influence of medication during the trial, which made him sleepy and incapable of remembering anything.
McMurry asked White if he knew what perjury was, and White said he did not.
Crowder, however, took the stand and retold details of the Carniceria del Valle robbery. Crowder told the jury how he and Mahone had robbed the store and its customers, fled in the vehicle driven by Pearson, and how he had shot at the 17-year-old using Pearson’s gun. Crowder was the state’s final witness.
Pearson also chose to testify in his own defense Friday, and answering Garland’s questions, he told the jury he knew nothing about the robberies until after they’d occurred. Pearson said he’d waited in the car, that he did not see Mahone or Crowder cover their faces before going inside the store, and that he had nothing to do with shooting at the 17-year-old – Crowder had grabbed his gun without asking. Pearson said he was not an armed robber and had not received any stolen money.
McMurry also cross-examined Pearson and suggested to him – since he was such an outstanding citizen – he must have immediately called the police following the robberies. Pearson said he had not. McMurry also asked Pearson why his testimony was so different from his interview with investigators Callahan and Elaine Jordan, an interview during which Pearson claimed to have nothing to do with either of the robberies and said he did not know either Mahone or Crowder. Pearson said everything he told investigators was a lie because he was scared for his life and didn’t want to be considered a snitch.
After deliberating for around two hours on Friday and five hours on Monday, the jury essentially found Pearson not guilty of being a part of Tienda del Valle’s robbery, but he was guilty of being involved in Carniceria del Valle’s robbery. Jury members asked Palmer whether they had to prove Pearson had any intention to shoot at the 17-year-old – which they would have to – and they ultimately decided he was not guilty of that charge either.
In an attempt to reduce the sentence, both Pearson and his mother said a few words to Palmer. Pearson’s mother attested to his character, saying he was a good kid and never had gotten into trouble with the law before these incidents. She said he deserves a chance, and asked why he should be sentenced more time than the people who were the real criminals.
Garland also asked for the court to take into consideration that the co-defendants appeared to be more culpable in the robberies, and they each got less time. He asked that Pearson not be punished for merely exercising his rights for a trial.
“I believe these are serious crimes. They are violent crimes and they terrorize the law-abiding citizens of the community,” Palmer explained. “And I’m convinced [Pearson] willingly participated in these crimes.”
The men may be further indicted for gang-related activity because they are all tied to the 8-3 (Eight Tray) Crip gang, said Investigator Ryan Foles with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office. White and Mahone will also be indicted for perjury, Reeves added.