George Patel stood in his downtown store with his hands in the air, and begged for his life.
“Let me shoot him once,” one of the two masked men robbing Patel’s Veterans Grocery said to his accomplice, who warned him not to.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” the accomplice repeated nervously, peering out the glass door at heavy traffic on Veterans Parkway.
“Please don’t shoot me,” Patel told the gunman, swearing he would not call the police.
The robbers did not shoot him as they took about $2,000 from his store and fled in a car from the back parking lot of the 739 Veterans Parkway business, turning west on Eighth Street.
That was Patel’s testimony this week in the Columbus trial of two men accused in a string of store robberies in the fall of 2018, when Patel’s place was hit twice in a week. Patel doesn’t own the store anymore, having decided it was too dangerous, he testified in Muscogee Superior Court.
The two robberies at his store were among seven incidents targeting small businesses in Columbus, two of them smash and grab burglaries at Zelmo’s stores, the others robberies where victims were held at gunpoint, one of them a female clerk who was pistol-whipped.
Police charged four suspects in the case. Two are to testify at this week’s trial and plead guilty later.
The two on trial, and their charges, are:
Montavious Travon “Money” Ogletree, 23, charged with two counts each of armed robbery and of smash and grab burglary.
Amileus Keyshone “Mick Mick” Thomas, 24, charged with five counts of armed robbery, two of smash and grab burglary and one of aggravated assault.
Attorney Anthony Johnson represents Thomas, and attorneys Allen Jones and Joshua Fleitas represent Ogletree.
The suspects to testify, before pleading guilty, are:
Victoria Lashay Thomas, 31, charged with three counts of armed robbery and one count each of theft by receiving stolen property, and being a convicted felon with a firearm.
Rashid Lamon Ricks, 35, also charged with three counts of armed robbery and one count each of theft by receiving stolen property, and being a convicted felon with a firearm.
Victoria Thomas and Amileus Thomas are siblings, and Ricks was Victoria Thomas’ boyfriend at the time, Chief Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly told jurors in his opening statement.
The second time Patel’s store was robbed was on Oct. 2, 2018, when the robbers fled in a black Lincoln Town Car, again exiting from the business’ rear parking lot and turning west on Eighth Street.
That the getaway car twice turned in that direction fit prosecutors’ theory of the crime spree, because the vehicle went toward an apartment Victoria Thomas and Ricks shared at 543 Third Ave., just a few blocks away.
That’s where police serving a search warrant on Oct. 24, 2018, found evidence matching video recordings of the crimes, all of which were caught on store security cameras.
Kelly outlined that evidence for jurors on Wednesday, first using maps and images to detail this series of 2018 incidents:
A Sept. 25 smash and grab burglary at Zelmo’s Zip In, 3651 Weems Road, where two intruders threw a rock through glass door and stole lottery tickets, cigarettes and other goods. Ogletree and Montavious Thomas are charged in this case.
A second Sept. 25 smash and grab burglary at a Zelmo’s Zip In at 4001 Miller Road, about a mile away from the first, where more lottery tickets were taken. Ogletree and Montavious Thomas are charged in this case.
A Sept. 25 armed robbery of Patel’s store on Veterans Parkway. Ogletree and Montavious Thomas are charged in this case.
A Sept. 27 armed robbery at Nick’s Food Mart, 5018 Hamilton Road. All four suspects are charged in this case.
An Oct. 2 armed robbery at Patel’s Veterans Grocery store. Ricks and the Thomas siblings are charged in this case.
An Oct. 17 armed robbery at Floyd Food & Lottery, 1600 Floyd Road. Ricks and the Thomas siblings are charged in this case.
An Oct. 17 armed robbery at Ray’s Food Mart, 3822 Hamilton Road. Ricks and the Thomas siblings are charged in this case also.
Video recordings of the crimes showed two of the perpetrators typically wore the same clothing. The shorter one Kelly identified as Ogletree wore either an orange shirt or a smiley face knit cap over his face, and the taller one Kelly said was Amileus Thomas wore a camouflage jacket and a San Antonio Spurs cap.
The videos also showed culprits with a blue pistol and blue gloves, and one wore black pants with a stain on the right leg.
While searching the Third Avenue apartment Ricks and Victoria Thomas shared, police found an orange shirt, a smiley face cap, a camouflage jacket, a San Antonio Spurs cap, stacks of scratch-off lottery tickets, a blue pistol, blue gloves, and black sweat pants with a stain on the right leg, Kelly said.
Detectives also found a 9 mm pistol the robbers stole Oct. 17 from Floyd Food & Lottery, where workers had kept the gun near the cash register, the prosecutor said.
Investigators tracked Ricks to the apartment after they got a partial tag number that helped identify the black Lincoln Town Car he owned, the same car Kelly said was used in some of the robberies.
The defense attorneys emphasized to jurors that only two of 25 witnesses can claim to identify the robbers, whose faces always were covered.
Those two witnesses are also codefendants, Ricks and Victoria Thomas, the lawyers said. Because all the evidence was found in their apartment, those witnesses will want to pin the crimes on Ogletree and Amelius Thomas to save themselves, the attorneys said.
“The entirety of this case rests on two witnesses,” Jones told the jury, noting police had no other evidence such as fingerprints or DNA to ID the robbers, as “you don’t see any facial features that would indicate who it is” on the videos.
Johnson told jurors to jot down in their trial notes the numbers 23 and two, stressing that 23 witnesses can’t say who the robbers were, and that the only two who can are not credible.