Editor's Note: Greig is a rising senior at Wando High School. For this story, she filed Freedom of Information Act requests and interviewed several of the people involved in the crimes.
Prison or college? Eight Wando High School students soon will learn if they are headed for time behind bars or a South Carolina college campus. They are the young men many refer to as "The Food Lion Robbers," a group of teenagers who have admitted to making one fateful mistake that changed their lives forever.
In the 23 months since a group of 10 young men was arrested for an armed robbery scheme in Mount Pleasant, they've watched the group's ringleaders receive 10-year prison terms.
Michael Anthony, 19, is housed in Ridgeland Correctional Institution, and Sean Shevlino, 17, is an inmate at MacDougall Correctional Institution, where he earned his high school diploma and plans to work on a college degree.
Friends and family say both young men are still struggling with their new lives in prison.
Of the eight remaining boys who face sentencing, four have graduated from high school and are hoping to begin college on a local campus rather than behind bars.
Max Hartwell graduated with a grade point average above 3.5 and wants to become a financial adviser. The other three graduates — Jackie Washington, Sam Perez and Graham Stolte — are proud of their diplomas, and look forward to furthering their education.
The remaining four from the group are Christopher Cousins, Vincent Weiner, Michael Dawley and Patrick Brown. They soon will graduate from high school and hope to attend college, too.
According to the S.C. Department of Corrections, these young men make up the biggest group of South Carolina juveniles to be charged as adults in the past 10 years. Their ages ranged from 16 to 18 when they were arrested in 2006. Their court appearances have been moved back several times, so they now are over age 18. This means they will legally be considered adults at the time of sentencing.
The young men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery and accessory after the fact. There are no inmates from the 9th Circuit in South Carolina prisons who committed those same crimes as juveniles and received prison terms when sentenced as adults.
In the past 10 years, however, prosecutors have been tough on young inmates convicted of attempted armed robbery, armed robbery, burglary, manslaughter and murder. The Corrections Department said 30 juveniles in the circuit who committed these crimes were prosecuted and sentenced as adults.
The event that changed the lives of the group of Wando students took place in August 2006, when one of their friends suggested pulling off a holdup at the Mount Pleasant Food Lion. Cousins was an employee in the store.
The boys bought a mask and pellet gun. Their plan was for two of the boys to go inside, and for the rest to serve as lookouts.
In the minutes before the crime, the younger boys didn't believe it would actually happen. They say they figured it was one of those ideas they'd talk about but never really follow through on. They sat in their cars with walkie-talkies, assuming everything would blow over.
Instead, they got the surprise of their lives when one of the boys inside said the code phrase — "The Eagle has landed" — they had discussed during their planning. At that point, their radios went silent.
Several of the boys say they hadn't planned what everyone would do if the robbery actually took place, which is one reason they figured the crime wouldn't really happen.
So, they all waited for some type of communication. When none came, they gradually drove off in different directions, not knowing what to do or where to go. They eventually met up and split the robbery money.
In the days to follow, the group was fragmented. Some were shocked to learn Shevlino and Anthony also were accused of holding up a Subway restaurant, and some who were interviewed say that most had no idea until the police told them during questioning.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson was tough on Anthony and Shevlino. Her plea agreement with them resulted in 10-year prison terms, despite some outcries in the community. She has not publicly indicated what type of sentencing she will request for the remaining eight.
At this point, friends and family say the young men awaiting sentencing are scared. Their attorneys have prevented them from talking to the media, for fear that they might say something to make the situation worse. However, attorneys for several freely admit their clients are terrified they are going to spend some time behind bars.