Three plead guilty in UTM campus carjacking, robbery

Three plead guilty in UTM campus carjacking, robbery
By BRAD GASKINS
News Editor
DRESDEN — Three of the four suspects in November’s drug-related carjacking and robbery on the University of Tennessee at Martin pleaded guilty to lesser charges Thursday.
Jeremy Lincoln Anderson, Cortez L. Bowen and Quinton McClerkin pleaded guilty to robbery and were sentenced in Weakley County Circuit Court to six years in prison. They must serve at least 30 percent of the sentence.
Judge Bill Acree gave the fourth suspect, Richard Taylor, until May 9 to decide whether he will take the same deal or face trial on charges of two counts of aggravated robbery, auto burglary and theft.
Taylor arrived late to the hearing without a lawyer and said he had not been told about the state’s deal.
Acree cautioned Taylor that if he went to trial and was found guilty of aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, then Taylor would have to serve at least 85 percent of that.
All four men were accused of carjacking and robbing two UTM students and making off with money and marijuana.
The incident apparently began Nov. 12 sometime between 8-10:30 p.m., according to preliminary hearing testimony from UTM police Lt. Darrell Simmons and alleged victims Christian Thompson and Kevin Night.
Taylor, going by the street name “Ralph,” approached Night at an on-campus dodge ball game and asked about buying marijuana, testified Simmons, a 35-year veteran of UTM’s police force.
After the dodgeball game, UTM freshmen and suitemates Thompson and Night went to visit friends in a dorm room, according to testimony. At some point between leaving the dodge ball game and the alleged violence, Taylor and Night spoke on the phone.
When the alleged victims got in a car to leave, another car blocked their forward progress as another car blocked them from behind.
McClerkin tapped on the passenger’s side window and asked for a cigarette, Thompson and Night testified. Shortly after, they said, Taylor emerged with a revolver as McClerkin wielded a shotgun.
McClerkin and Taylor got into the car with the victims and forced them to drive to Oak Grove Baptist Church, according to testimony. Once in the parking lot, the victims were separated in different cars and the caravan returned to the UTM campus.
Taylor and Night then went to the victims’ dorm room, according to testimony. Taylor had the revolver in his pocket, Night testified. Taylor was caught on surveillance cameras as he and Night walked through the dorm lobby, where 10 to 20 people lingered.
Once in the dorm room, Night retrieved a N.Y. Giants tote bag, testimony revealed. Authorities allege that bag contained weed. Taylor and Night exited the dorm complex through a back entrance, and the victims were again driven away in separate vehicles.
Thompson was then driven to Murphy’s Funeral Home and released, testimony revealed.
Night was taken to the Regions Bank in downtown Martin and told to withdraw money from his account, according to testimony. The ATM was out of service, and Night got back into the car without any money.
Night was then taken to a pasture on Old Fulton Road, where his cell phone and keys were thrown into the field, according to testimony. Night was hit in the head twice at some point between leaving the ATM and being released in the field. It took five staples to close the wounds.
Night testified he was unable to locate his keys and walked to a nearby house, where the homeowners called police.
Defense attorneys attempted to poke holes in the victims’ testimony, questioned Simmons’ interviews with the alleged suspects and tried repeatedly to get Night to confess to dealing marijuana.
Simmons testified that he did not videotape, audio record or even take handwritten notes of his interviews with Anderson, Bowen and Taylor. Simmons said he never records interviews.
Night was repeatedly asked if he “sold weed” and constantly invoked his 5th amendment right against self-incrimination. He admitted to smoking marijuana.
According to Lt. Simmons, Taylor confessed to the crime and implicated Anderson, Bowen and McClerkin.
Simmons said he interviewed Anderson and Bowen and that both confessed to “limited” involvement. Anderson and Bowen both said they received phone calls from Taylor soliciting help in the robbery, Simmons said.
McClerkin was not interviewed because he was classified as a juvenile at the time. His case has since been bound over to Weakley County Circuit Court.
Anderson, Bowen and Taylor were UTM football players and students.
Anderson was dismissed from the team in the summer for violation of team rules and never appeared on the 2012 roster. Taylor was dismissed in September for violation of team rules. Bowen played in a game two days before the alleged crime and was quickly dismissed from the team.
Publshed in The WCP 4.23.13

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