Cashier: Carbondale robbers looked unafraid to pull the trigger

Ryan Summerlin
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Prosecutors called their first round of witnesses Thursday in the trial of Benjamin Weeks, who is accused of armed robbery of a Carbondale Valero in February.

Weeks, a 20-year-old from California who investigators say wielded the gun during the robbery, faces four counts of aggravated robbery and two counts of menacing, all felonies. Investigators say that Weeks robbed the gas station with his cousin, Nicholas Ameral, who pleaded guilty to the crime in July.

After the robbery, authorities were on the lookout for the two, and nearly apprehended them on a Roaring Fork Transportation bus — though Weeks and Ameral were able to ditch the bus and lead police on a two-day manhunt while hiding out in the hillside around Basalt.

During opening statements, defense attorney Chip McCrory said that Ameral was indeed one of the robbers, but he asserted that Weeks was not guilty as the second robber.

Misael Ramos, one of the cashiers who was held up at gunpoint that night, testified that he was working the closing shift, while his girlfriend, Ana Escalante was keeping him company. She too works at the Valero, but she was off the clock at the time.

Video surveillance displayed at the trial shows two people in black jackets and gray hoodies come into the gas station and direct Ramos to open the cash register. Though extremely little of the perpetrators’ skin was visible through hoodies that were tied tight across their faces, Ramos said he could tell that they were both black men.

He described the shorter of the two as the one holding the gun and giving him and his girlfriend instructions. During previous court proceedings, prosecutors have said that Weeks was the one who held the gun during the robbery. The taller robber, wearing a jacket with white lettering, didn’t say anything to them during the robbery, Ramos said.

He described the gunman as having a “hood accent,” a kind of slang that “didn’t sound like formal English.”

When the two robbers first came into the store, Ramos thought it was a joke. But he quickly realized they were serious. Ramos said he “realized something was really wrong when they pointed the gun at us.”

The shorter one said “Do you think this is a joke?” as he held the couple at gunpoint, Ramos said. The taller robber jumped the counter to the cash registers, then the shorter one escorted the two employees to the registers, where Ramos opened the drawer for them. Video footage shows the two robbers put the couple face down on the ground, then rifling through the register before bolting for the door.

Though he and his girlfriend remained calm throughout the incident, Ramos said the two robbers seemed pretty sure of what they were doing, that they weren’t afraid to pull the trigger. He said that he wanted to “just give them what they wanted; I didn’t want them to hurt Ana or something worse.”

Prosecutors also called to the stand three Carbondale police officers to walk through their investigation and collection of evidence. This included a search of Ameral’s and his mother’s home just outside of Carbondale.

There, officers recovered several items, including a pair of black jackets and shoes they believed to be worn by the robbers during the crime. One in particular was a black jacket with its left side covered in white lettering. Surveillance footage shows the same kind of jacket worn by one of the robbers, as well as by Ameral in the Carbondale 7-Eleven shortly before the Valero robbery.

Officers also walked through how they discovered in a crawl space beneath the house a loaded 9 mm Glock handgun, equipped with an extended clip, and an extra loaded clip next to it.

They also questioned a woman who, along with a female friend, had been hanging out with “Nick and Ben” just prior to the robbery. though she didn’t know them well enough to know their last names.

The woman told investigators that at some point on that evening she thought the two men had smoked marijuana from a joint. And she testified that she dropped them off at home only an hour or two before the robbery.

The trial, which is scheduled for 10 days total, will continue into its fourth day Friday.