Columbia man faces federal gun charges

Indictment follows dismissed case in 1999 grocery store robbery

April 05, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A Columbia man accused of wielding an AK-47 assault rifle during a 1999 grocery store robbery was indicted yesterday on federal charges almost a year after a related state case against him was thrown out because of insufficient evidence.

Armistead D. Myers, 27, was charged in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with using a firearm in a violent crime and conspiracy in connection with a string of Howard County robberies dating to December 1997.

A conviction on the weapons charge carries a possible sentence of life in prison.

The gun charge stemmed from a Jan. 12, 1999, robbery at the Wilde Lake Giant Food store, where Myers carried an AK-47 and ordered employees and customers to lie on the ground while another man kicked in the front office door and took about $3,000 from a safe, according to yesterday's indictment.

He initially was charged in Howard County Circuit Court with armed robbery, assault and other offenses. Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman dismissed the case during a jury trial last May after finding that state prosecutors had failed to support the testimony of their main witness, Angela M. Watkins, who admitted participating in the crime but was granted immunity.

Myers could not be retried for the same crime in state court, but investigators were able to use the same event to bring a new case against him in federal court.

The new conspiracy charge - obstructing commerce by robbery - involves robberies or attempted robberies at a dozen area businesses, including gas stations, a video store and a car repair shop, between December 1997 and February 1999. The gun charge is specifically linked to the Giant Food robbery.

Myers bought the AK-47 rifle used in that crime in 1998, after telling a co-conspirator "that it would be a good idea to have a more intimidating weapon to better control people during a big robbery," according to the indictment.

Three people are named as co-conspirators in yesterday's indictment: Watkins; Duane E. Curtis; and Michael E. "Mikey" Brown. None of the three was charged in federal court.

Investigators have identified Curtis in court records as the other man who participated in the Giant Food store robbery. State prosecutors in Howard County dropped charges against Curtis last year after losing their case against Myers. But a county grand jury in January re-indicted the Catonsville man on charges of armed robbery and assault.

Myers remained in custody after the state case against him was dismissed last year. He is serving a three-year prison sentence for an unrelated drug distribution conviction.

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