Man robbed at gunpoint

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 17, 2005

An investigation into an alleged armed robbery in Sumter County has led to pair of arrests, including one of an apparent victim of the crime.

The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday that they had arrested Marcus Smith, 28, of York, and LaSonja Gibbs, 29, of Morningstar, on Monday and Tuesday respectively. Both are charged with Robbery in the First Degree and are being held in the Sumter County Jail, Smith in lieu of $15,000 bond and Gibbs in lieu of $3,000 bond.

According to a public statement made by the Sumter Sheriff’s office, the robbery occurred at noon on March 13. The victim, Jerome Watkins of York, age 35, had agreed to meet alone with Gibbs on “isolated” Lake Louise Road near York. The investigation by the Sumter Sheriff’s office revealed that, unbeknownst to Watkins, Gibbs had already been collaborating on the planned robbery with Smith and had selected the location for that purpose.

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The Sheriff’s office’s statement reads that Watkins “told police that the assailant emerged from the trees alongside the road and pointed a handgun at him, forcing Watkins to partially undress. The bandit then fired a shot into the air and Watkins ran away into the woods.”

Following Watkins’ escape, the “bandit” evidently burglarized Watkins’s silver Oldsmobile Alero, making off with $1,100 in cash and damaging the vehicle’s electrical wiring.

The Sheriff’s office’s investigation “quickly revealed a number of leads,” and Smith and Gibbs were arrested in short order. Smith is facing jail again after a brief six months of freedom, having been released from prison only last September after serving part of a 15-year sentence for the armed robbery of a York Church’s Chicken.

Sumter Sheriff Johnny Hatter said that the case is proof that crimes like these should not be taken at face value.

“At first, it looked like we had two victims that were robbed by a lone thief,” Hatter said in the public statement. “but once you start digging into these things, it turns out to be not that simple. When someone calls us to report a crime, we never know who’s going to be involved or where it is going to lead. We just have to go where the investigation takes us.”

Hatter said that, unfortunately, a robbery victim being set up by a supposed friend is not as uncommon as the public might think.

“This is the second armed robbery we have worked recently where the victim was apparently set up by a person they knew and trusted,” he said, referring to the recent robbery of Coatopa’s Oak Tree Lounge, whose owner was allegedly set up by a female acquaintance. “You have to be careful who you hang around with, and who you trust.”

In the statement, Hatter expressed sympathy with those whose lives the investigation of the case had disrupted.

“Sometimes the facts of the case lead into people’s personal lives and family situations, and we regret that,” he said, “but we have to investigate everything the same, and armed robbery is a very serious business. We don’t try to pry into people’s personal business, but sometimes a person can put themselves into a situation where we have no choice.”