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Man charged in 2008 armed-robbery case

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

An Ellenwood man, recently convicted of robbing a pawn shop in Clayton County, will answer similar charges in Henry, in a case that had been unsolved for more than a year.

Henry County Police said Markell Deshawn Rawles, 23, is one of three men who allegedly robbed the Pawn Mart at 5222 N. Henry Blvd., in Stockbridge, on Nov. 5, 2008.

The suspect was charged Tuesday with armed robbery, and was brought from the Clayton County Jail for a hearing Wednesday in Henry County Magistrate Court.

Henry Police Detective Thomas Stott testified that a pair of employees at the shop, Jara Barringer and Janet Sims, were preparing to open the store shortly after 8 a.m., when the robbery occurred.

"Three individuals entered the store, one of which -- at least -- was armed with a handgun," Stott said. "Both employees were ordered to the back storage area. The subjects ordered them to the floor, after ordering Mrs. Barringer to open the safe. At that time, two of the individuals removed jewelry and cash from the safe, then the three subjects fled the store, getting into a gray Dodge Charger and leaving the area."

Stott told prosecutor Joe Stone, with the Solicitor's Office, that police viewed video-surveillance footage at the store following the heist, but were unable to identify the suspects. The detective said authorities pursued information the day of the robbery, which initially led to Rawles, as a gun found at the scene was traced back to the suspect.

"The firearm had been purchased on May 7, 2008 by ... Rawles," Stott told the court. "Later on the same day, I interviewed Mr. Rawles, and he stated that he had, in fact, bought the handgun, but that it had been placed in his vehicle."

Stott said the suspect told him the gun had been stolen from his car, and that he denied involvement in the robbery.

"He gave an account that he was with his girlfriend that morning," said the detective. "No arrest, of course, was made at the time, and the case has remained open since that date."

Stott admitted the suspect's vehicle appeared as though it could have been broken into.

Rawles is being represented on the Henry charge by Gerald Privin, with the Public Defender's Office. Stott told Privin the suspect's girlfriend, Erica Heard, provided an alibi for Rawles the day of the robbery. "She did indicate that they were together, and that they were dropping off a sibling of hers at school," said Stott.

Rawles, Stott continued, was later named as a suspect in an April 1, 2009 armed-robbery case at a Pawn Mart in Forest Park.

"The Pawn Mart in Forest Park has four individuals who entered their store, one of which was clearly visible as one of the co-defendants in our case," he said. "The other individuals had their faces, either completely or partially, covered. But, Mr. Rawles, along with another defendant, Kalu Onumah, were arrested after a short foot pursuit in Forest Park."

Rawles was convicted in the Clayton County case on March 11, and was sentenced to serve 25 years in prison. Onumah's trial is set to begin Monday, according to records from Clayton County Superior Court.

Privin attempted to have the Henry County charges against his client dismissed, telling Judge Robert Godwin that the prosecution had not produced evidence directly linking Rawles to the Pawn Mart robbery case.

"There's no identification of my client at the scene," Privin said. "He bought the gun on May 7. It eventually got stolen from his car. The car looked like it got broken into."

Judge Godwin quickly countered, saying Privin was "leaving out" a key piece of information which points to the possibility of Rawles' guilt in the case.

"He was caught in a very similar transaction, and at least some of the same people have been identified in that one," said the judge. "I think that certainly rises to probable cause."

Godwin bound the charge over to Henry County Superior Court. Rawles was ordered to be returned to the Clayton County Jail, pending a future court date in the Henry case.