High school student is 1 of 10 charged in Mount Pleasant armed robbery case
The first of 10 current or former Wando High School students arrested in a 2006 armed robbery spree pleaded guilty Friday, confessing he was part of a crew that took part when a Food Lion supermarket was held up at gunpoint.
Samuel Perez's plea came as several members of the group, some of them ex-Wando football players, appear to be taking advantage of plea offers that were in the process of expiring.
All of the remaining suspects, or possibly as few as seven of them, could enter guilty pleas next week.
The offer, detailed to defense lawyers in a letter from 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, also stipulates that anyone who accepts the deal must "cooperate should any of his co-defendants reject their offers and proceed to trial."
Those not accepting the offer can expect to be called for trial as soon as the week of Jan. 7, the letter says.
Perez, 17, a one-time Wando defensive lineman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery and accessory after the fact of armed robbery in connection with an Aug. 26, 2006, incident at the Food Lion on South Morgan's Point Road.
The maximum penalty for each offense is five years and 15 years, respectively.
Perez originally had been charged with conspiracy and armed robbery — which by itself can draw 30 years in state prison.
It is doubtful Perez will receive the statutory maximums. His sentencing was put off indefinitely until a report on his background and post-arrest conduct is done for the sentencing judge.
Perez, who was 16 at the time of the robbery, was among several groupings of teens who acted as lookouts the night the Food Lion was hit in a crime spree that stunned members of the Lowcountry's more well-to-do East Cooper region.
During the course of about a week, the Food Lion was robbed, a $35,000 BMW was stolen and a Subway sandwich shop was held up at gunpoint.
In the Food Lion robbery, several teens sat in parked cars nearby and used radios to communicate while a suspect wearing an orange mask and carrying a pistol walked into the store and ordered an employee to open the safe.
The gunman loaded an undetermined amount of money into a duffel bag and fled, police said at the time. It was later determined he was carrying a pellet gun.
At the time, some Wando students suggested that the initial robbery was planned to aid a friend who had been booted from his house for hosting a party. But police said that didn't make sense, as those involved reportedly split the meager proceeds of the heist. Others suggested the crimes were just a way for thrill-seeking kids to get their kicks.
Eight of the defendants are accused of taking part only in the Food Lion event. Two others, Sean Shevlino and Michael Anthony, are accused in the Food Lion and the Subway robberies.
All of those arrested were charged as adults.
In court Friday, Perez said little other than to admit his guilt and participation. He also received some of the "take" after the robbery was over.
His attorney, Andy Savage, said there was no question of Perez's admission of responsibility or of his cooperation after his arrest, adding he has been clean ever since.
Though Perez was expelled from Wando, he is back in school there this year and is scheduled to graduate next year.
The Wando episode represents one of the most divisive and closely watched cases to land on Wilson's desk since she became Charleston County solicitor in September. Some in the community feel authorities are being too hard on a group of thrill-seeking kids who made stupid mistakes.
Others are watching to see whether this group of mainly white, affluent suburban teens gets the same stiff penalties as inner city kids charged with similar crimes.
Wilson's predecessor, Solicitor Ralph Hoisington, made the plea offers before he died of cancer in June.
Hoisington felt a strong allegiance to crime victims, shaped in part by an incident from his youth in which he was robbed at gunpoint by three other teenagers, all about 16 years old.
It is not certain when the other defendants who accept the solicitor's offer will plead, but all signs point to Wednesday.
Plea deals determined by 'classes'
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson's plea offers to the 10 current and former Wando High School students charged in an August-September 2006 armed robbery spree centers on three "classes" of defendants.
Two defendants, Sean Shevlino and Michael Anthony, were deemed "active participants" in the armed robbery of the South Morgan's Point Road Food Lion and the Coleman Boulevard Subway. Each faces two counts of armed robbery.
Wilson is recommending concurrent 10-year sentences for both, at 85 percent parole eligibility.
Seven defendants deemed involved "in the planning and implementation" of the Food Lion robbery were offered only a plea of one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and one count of accessory after the fact of armed robbery.
They are: Christopher Cousins, Michael Dawley, Max Hartwell, Sam Perez, Graham Stolte, Jackie Washington, Vincent Weiner. Perez pleaded guilty Friday.
Wilson said she will ask for the maximum sentences of five and 15 years, respectively, for each crime, on the stipulation that the sentences can run concurrent.
Defense lawyers assuredly will ask the sentencing judge for sentences of far less. Perez's sentencing date has not been set. If sentenced to prison time, the seven also would be eligible for parole much sooner than would Shevlino or Anthony.
Patrick Brown is accused of being a late addition to the Food Lion robbery crew and of accepting money afterwards. He is being offered a straight up plea of accessory after the fact of armed robbery.
Wilson will recommend a youthful offender sentence that could keep him incarcerated from one to six years.
Even if the offers are accepted, defense lawyers in all the cases can plead for something lower.
Sean Deaton, accused of stealing a BMW, is not a part of the plea negotiations. A tip about the vehicle theft led to the arrests of the other students.