District Judge Joel Johnson sent the 14-year-old convicted robber to the TJJD after finding him guilty of robbery and evading arrest during a juvenile hearing.
The teen originally had been charged with aggravated robbery, a first degree felony, and evading arrest, a Class A misdemeanor, following the March 23 holdup.
The evading arrest charge was filed after the defendant tried to avoid being taken into custody when he was located by Beeville Police Department detectives hours later, on March 24.
The severity of the felony robbery charge was reduced when the judge ruled that the weapon used, a CO2 powered BB gun that looked like a real handgun, was not actually a deadly weapon.
That ruling bothered District Attorney Martha Warner and her assistant, Deborah Branch.
Both said the victim thought the pistol was a real gun when the teen walked into the Valero convenience store at 601 S. Washington St. and pulled the weapon.
Branch said the judge told those in the courtroom that he had put himself in the position of all involved in the robbery when he considered making his ruling.
“She thought she was going to die,” Branch said of the 22-year-old mother of two who was working behind the counter that night.
“She was worried about her children,” Branch said of the thought that went through the victim’s mind when she looked at the gun.
Branch said the victim was an emotional wreck when police responded to the robbery call.
The prosecutor said the victim left her job at the Valero store immediately and never went back.
“She feels that whenever anybody walked into the store she would fear for her life,” Branch said.
“Looking at this gun, it looks real,” Branch said this week. Although some toy and BB guns have red or orange paint on the muzzles, the gun the teenager used on March 23 did not.
Because the gun was deemed not to be a deadly weapon, that dropped the severity of the crime from a first degree to a second degree felony. That meant that the judge could only send the defendant to the juvenile facility until he is 19.
If he had been convicted of a first degree felony, he could have then been turned over to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice after being released by juvenile authorities and confined in an adult prison facility.
Branch said the defendant could be paroled by juvenile justice officials before he is 19.
However, that would mean the defendant’s attitude would have to take “a complete 180-degree turn.”
“He wants to join a gang,” Branch said. She suspects that is exactly what he will do when he gets to the juvenile facility.
“It’s in his hands,” the prosecutor said of the defendant. “It’s always been in his hands. He has the control in this one.”
However, the teen has shown no inclination to straighten out his life. Once he reaches the facility, Branch believes he will become exactly what he has wanted to be all along, a criminal gang member.
Branch said that some good might come from the incident. The victim is taking steps to qualify for a new career, one in which she will no longer have to fear who she meets on the job.
“She aspires to become a medical assistant,” Branch said.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.