Man pleads guilty in '99 holdup

9 1/2 -year term imposed for Giant store robbery

April 11, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 25-year-old Baltimore man accused of robbing Columbia's Wilde Lake Giant with another man who was wielding an AK-47 assault rifle pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of armed robbery.

The plea by Duane Ellis Curtis - which provides for a 9 1/2 -year prison term - is part of what has turned into a whirlwind prosecution of the 2-year-old case, which all but fell apart last spring.

One of Curtis' co-defendants, Angela Watkins, 30, is scheduled to appear in Howard County Circuit Court for a plea hearing this afternoon. Watkins, who was once granted immunity for her testimony in the case, is accused of conspiring with Curtis and Armistead D. Myers to rob the Giant.

State charges were filed against Curtis in January and against Watkins less than three weeks ago.

Myers was indicted in federal court last week on charges of conspiracy to obstruct commerce by robbery and brandishing a firearm in a violent crime. The indictment lists a series of robberies, robbery attempts and aborted plans to rob Howard county businesses - including the Wilde Lake Giant - between late 1997 and early 1999.

The charges, indictments and pleas come less than a year after Howard County Judge Lenore R. Gelfman acquitted Myers of all state charges, saying local prosecutors had not done enough to prove his involvement beyond Watkins' testimony. By law, the testimony of an alleged accomplice must be independently corroborated.

To date, federal and state prosecutors have refused to comment on what role, if any, Curtis and Watkins will play in Myers' federal case, although Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey E. Eisenberg has been at their hearings in Howard County Circuit Court.

Prosecutors also have declined to say why Watkins is no longer under a grant of immunity - although Curtis' plea hearing yesterday provided at least one clue.

In his statement of facts to support Curtis' guilty plea, Howard County Assistant State's Attorney Brendan Clary said that Watkins sat outside the Giant in a stolen car Jan. 12, 1999, while Curtis and Myers allegedly robbed the supermarket. Myers is accused of wielding an AK-47 and watching the customers and employees; Curtis is accused of kicking down an office door and taking the money, according to court testimony yesterday. The three drove off together after the robbery, according to testimony.

But during Myers' trial in state court last spring, Watkins testified that Curtis and Myers dropped her off at home before the robbery. A grant of immunity traditionally includes a provision that a witness testify truthfully.

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