Armed robber gets 12-year sentence

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 10, 1999

A would-be shoplifter who used a gun while attempting to get away from store employees entered a plea of guilty in a Butler County courtroom Monday.

Travis Johnson, a 17 year-old male of Thrasher Road, Wetumpka, was arrested and charged with first degree robbery after a June incident at Fred's Dollar Store. The suspect allegedly had pulled a gun on the store's manager when he tried to stop him after exiting the store with merchandise that he did not pay for.

Johnson, who was tried as an adult, was sentenced to 12 years in prison by Judge Edward McFerrin.

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Fred's store manager Randy Beeson had stated at the time of the incident that Johnson had stolen 20 packs of cigars and then exited the store. Beeson and two other employees followed him out the door and returned him to the store.

"As we were taking him toward that back of the store he began trying to struggle to leave," Beeson said. "At that point he began to fight with me and then pulled a gun. I told the other employees it wasn't worth it and we let him go. He then ran out of the store and into the woods behind Gateway Plaza."

The Greenville Police Department had been called to the scene and arrived in time to find and apprehend Johnson.

According to police reports, Officer Kerry Mitchum was the first to spot the suspect who was standing in a patch of kudzu. Officers ordered

him to put his hands in the air. The suspect was placed into custody and transported to the Butler County jail where he awaited a bond hearing.

Charlotte Tessmer of the District Attorney's Office said Johnson said he did not use a gun during the crime.

"It was his contention that he had a piece of metal from an air pump instead of a gun. It does not matter if he had a gun, the intent and perception of having a weapon would be enough to make this a first degree felony. However, police found a gun in the kudzu patch behind Fred's and we were prepared to prove that he did have a gun," Tessmer said.

Before accepting Johnson's plea, the district attorney's office asked Beeson if he felt that would be a fair sentence for the crime.

"We try to acquire sentences for defendants that will please the victims. We asked Mr. Beeson and he felt 12 years was fair so we agreed to the plea," she said.

Beeson said that 12 years would have been the very least amount of time he would have accepted as part of a bargain.

"I did not want to settle for a lesser charge or a sentence

of any less than 12 years. I feel that the D.A.'s office did a good job and that the court system was fair to me," he said.

He also said that he hopes the incident will bring about some positive changes in the community.

"It bothers me that we see so many people, especially young people, with guns," he said. I think we need to do something to educate the communit, and that if you use a gun in the process of committing a crime, you had better be willing to do the time."