Robbery of Giant results in prison

Two are required to cooperate with federal authorities

Jail time, probation

Columbia

February 28, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Two people were sentenced to prison yesterday for their roles in the January 1999 robbery of the Wilde Lake Giant, a crime committed with an AK-47 assault rifle.

The state sentences for Duane E. Curtis, 25, and Angela Watkins, 31, came one month after the federal conviction of Armistead D. Myers for a string of robberies and robbery attempts in Maryland - including the holdup of the Giant grocery store. They also came as part of plea arrangements that required both to cooperate with federal authorities investigating and trying the Myers case.

At his April 26 sentencing, Myers, who was convicted of conspiracy and weapons charges, faces a minimum of 24 1/2 years without parole in federal prison.

Because of Curtis' information, "The government was able to clear and solve and assist the victims of a dozen robberies," Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey E. Eisenberg told Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure before sentencing. "That is not small doings."

The pleas also salvaged the Giant robbery case, which was left on shaky ground after Howard Judge Lenore R. Gelfman acquitted Myers of state charges in May 2000, saying local prosecutors had not done enough to independently support the testimony of an immunized co-conspirator - Watkins.

Federal prosecutors stepped in after the acquittal and expanded the Giant case to include about a dozen commercial robberies and robbery attempts committed between December 1997 through February 1999 - most in Howard County and all linked to Myers. Watkins was later stripped of her immunity after investigators determined that she had lied on the stand, officials said yesterday.

Watkins, who once worked at the Wilde Lake Giant store, testified during Myers' state trial that her role had been only to case the supermarket, while she had, in fact, also driven the get-away car, prosecutors said. In the Jan. 12, 1999, incident, Myers brandished an assault rifle while Curtis took about $3,000 in a robbery that lasted less than a minute and a half, according to court documents.

Watkins and Curtis pleaded guilty in April in Howard County Circuit Court to their roles in the Giant robbery - Watkins to a conspiracy charge, Curtis to armed robbery.

Curtis testified at Myers' trial; Watkins did not.

At yesterday's sentencings, Howard Assistant State's Attorney Brendan Clary said Watkins wasted the "break" she was given.

"She had one obligation and that obligation was to tell the truth," Clary said. " ... She did not."

Watkins, a mother of two, acknowledged that she lied, but she said she did so because she was afraid and ashamed. Her lawyer, J. David Ash, asked Leasure to impose a suspended sentence.

"I know I messed up, and I messed up a lot. But I have tried ... to lead a better life," a sobbing Watkins said.

Leasure sentenced her to 10 years with all but seven years suspended and five years of probation, noting the seriousness of the case and Watkins' "significant" role.

At Curtis' sentencing, Eisenberg, who prosecuted the Myers case, praised the Baltimore man, a career offender, for his role in helping authorities convict Myers. Curtis is an "extremely bright" man who chose to cooperate with authorities, he said.

Curtis was listed in Myers' federal indictment as a co-conspirator in several of the dozen robberies but was not charged federally.

"It's a shame we're here today, because that mind could be put to better use," he said.

As part of a binding plea agreement, Leasure sentenced Curtis to an eight-year, 301-day prison term and gave him credit for time served dating to his incarceration Oct. 7, 1999.

Another man, Michael E. "Mikey" Brown, 23, is also awaiting sentencing for a robbery committed with Myers. Brown's conspiracy plea was for the Feb. 19, 1999, robbery of a Columbia Jiffy Lube. Like Curtis and Watkins, Brown agreed to cooperate with federal authorities on the Myers case.

At his sentencing Friday, he likely faces a four-year prison term.

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