Benjamin Weeks found guilty in 2017 Carbondale armed robbery
January 11, 2018
A jury found 20-year-old Benjamin Weeks guilty Thursday on all four felony counts in his aggravated robbery trial.
The jury deliberated for about five hours before returning guilty verdicts on two felony counts of aggravated robbery and two felony counts of menacing. The verdict came on the seventh day of the trial.
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 pleaded guilty in July and is 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," Sollars said.
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, Sollars said.
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Among the evidence showing Weeks's involvement, Sollars pointed to DNA found on the 9mm 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," Sollars said. "It is a matter of fact corroborated by physical evidence."
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, who is Weeks' 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 said. He 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, Deputy District Attorney Zac Parsons said.
McCrory 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. 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, McCrory said. 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, Parsons said, and about those 48 seconds in the Valero, and the fear and violence the two victims had to experience.
Weeks' sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 13.
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