Eric Cornell Wheeler, a leader of the so-called "shotgun bandits" group that robbed dozens of stores, restaurants and banks over the winter, has pleaded guilty to three armed robberies in Baltimore County.
Wheeler, 30, of the 1100 block of McKean Ave., Baltimore, appeared in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday dressed in a black sweat suit with pink stripes. He pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
"I'm persuaded to take this course because it might be the better course to take," Wheeler told Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr.
He admitted to robbing the State Employees' Credit Union in Towson March 7, the Imperial Pontiac car dealership at 1701 Woodlawn Drive Feb. 28 and the Holiday Inn at 1721 Reisterstown Road Feb. 28.
Wheeler was trapped inside the credit union at 8503 LaSalle Road after five of his cohorts escaped. Armed with an automatic pistol, Wheeler held 13 credit union employees hostage for several hours before surrendering. No one was harmed in the attack.
Yesterday, in exchange for Wheeler's plea, prosecutors agreed not to press charges against him in connection three other robberies.
Prosecutors also agreed to ask for a maximum sentence of 60 years, even though Wheeler faces a possible sentence of 180 years in jail.
During the brief hearing, Wheeler spoke clearly and confidently as he answered the judge's questions. The only uncomfortable moment came after DeWaters asked Wheeler, "Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty?"
"That's a stickler," Wheeler replied, after a long pause. Wheeler paused another moment, then concluded, "Uh, I'm guilty of the charges, your honor."
DeWaters agreed to postpone sentencing until Sept. 9, when a presentencing report on Wheeler's background is to be ready.
Wheeler is the latest of the "shotgun bandits" to plead guilty to some involvement in the robberies. Last week, Michael Fouchong pleaded guilty to robbing the credit union in Towson.
Judge J. Norris Byrnes sentenced Fouchong to 10 years in prison -- five years for robbery and five years for use of a handgun in the commission of a robbery, said Mickey Norman, a Baltimore County assistant state's attorney.
Earlier this month, three other men suspected of being part of the gang pleaded guilty to federal bank robbery charges in Wilmington, Del., for their part in the March 14 robbery of the Wilmington Trust Co.
Michael Montell Boston, 22, of the 100 block of Conley Drive, Annapolis; Hubert Julian Pope, 27, of Philadelphia; and William Francis, of the Bronx, N.Y., are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 4.
Each faces a maximum of 50 years in jail.
Tony Bedford, 20, who goes by the name Sadiyq Abdullah Muhammed, still faces 13 robbery charges in Baltimore County and Baltimore City. He is also charged with attempted murder in the shooting of a hotel clerk at the Holiday Inn Feb. 28.
Bedford, who after his arrest told reporters for The Sun that he was robbing white-owned businesses to avenge racial injustice, has had his attorney ask for change of venue.