Weeks found guilty in Carbondale armed robbery
January 11, 2018
A jury found 20-year-old Benjamin Weeks guilty on all four felony counts in his aggravated robbery trial Thursday.
Thursday was the seventh day of trial, when the jury deliberated for about five hours before returning guilty verdicts on two felony counts of aggravated robbery and two felony counts of menacing.
Weeks stood trial for the Feb. 16, 2017, robbery of the Carbondale Cowen Center at gunpoint, which he was accused of committing alongside his cousin Nicholas Ameral.
Ameral had already pleaded guilty in the case and is now serving a six-year prison sentence. So the only real issue before the court now was whether Weeks was the second robber, Assistant District Attorney Ben Sollars said during closing arguments.
"All the evidence points to the defendant, all the evidence points to Nicholas Ameral, and that they were in this together," said Sollars.
That included from the time when they took the money from the register, as they fled from the scene back to the house, when they secreted away the weapon and clothing connected to the crime, and when they led police on a manhunt in the mountains, said Sollars.
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Among the evidence pointing to Weeks's involvement, Sollars pointed to DNA evidence found on the 9 mm Glock and clothes connected to the crime. Testing of the weapon found Weeks's DNA on a magazine inside the gun and on a second magazine.
"It is not a matter of coincidence; it is a matter of fact corroborated by physical evidence," said Sollars.
And though Ameral testified that the robbery was an unplanned crime committed while he was too intoxicated to remember the details, Sollars argued that the store's video footage shows something different.
Sollars said that this was not a drunk, passed out, "I don't know what I'm doing" crime, but one that required calculation, awareness and planning.
Prosecutors also reiterated the past statements by Ameral and Alicia Jackson, Weeks's aunt and Ameral's mother. Investigators say that both made statements implicating Weeks as the second robber, though those statements proved more difficult to elicit on the stand.
Police reports showed Jackson reporting that, when she confronted Weeks about the robbery over the phone, he responded, "I guess I (expletive) up again." And investigators say that Ameral eventually implicated his cousin as his accomplice, though while testifying Ameral said he couldn't remember that conversation with police.
Defense attorney Chip McCrory asserted that prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Weeks was the second robber at the Cowen Center.
The prosecution has no direct evidence in this case, but has relied on circumstantial evidence, most of which was based on evidence against Ameral, with no direct link to Weeks. McCrory also said that investigators did not put enough effort into investigating other possible suspects, such as one of Ameral's brothers.
On the two magazines, three people's DNA were found on each, but Weeks' was deemed the dominant one, said Deputy District Attorney Zac Parsons.
McCrory also called into question Ameral's and Jackson's credibility. Though Ameral implicated his cousin in an early interview with police, he has since denied that Weeks was involved in the robbery. And all of the attorneys have acknowledged how Ameral's stories about the robbery have shifted over time.
But the DNA expert was very cautious about how easy it was to transfer DNA, said McCrory. And the defense attorney criticized police handling of evidence at Jackson's home, saying that DNA could have been transferred when an officer failed to replace his gloves.
Ultimately this case is about common sense, and about those 48 seconds in the Valero, and the fear and violence the two victims had to experience, said Parsons.
Weeks's sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 13.