Man found guilty of aiding robbery

Published 12:27 am Sunday, December 14, 2014

An innocent victim or the mastermind behind a plot to rob a 76-year-old bookie of gambling money?

That was for a jury of 12 to decide this week in the trial of a Coal Grove man charged with complicity to aggravated robbery.

After a two-day trial it only took 30 minutes for the jury to decide that Jason Adams, 32, was the latter of the two options.

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There were audible gasps from the gallery when Judge Charles Cooper read the guilty verdict. Adams, who was indicted earlier this year for the robbery, which occurred on Jan. 14, was taken into custody and placed in the Lawrence County Jail pending sentencing on Thursday.

“I’m happy with the jury’s verdict,” Brigham Anderson, prosecuting attorney, said. “I think the evidence was overwhelming. The jury saw through the testimony that he was responsible for this crime.”


Two sides

Throughout the trial, the jury was presented with two very different accounts of the events of Jan. 14, the day 76-year-old Sam Jones was beaten and robbed in the Central Christian Church parking lot in Ironton.

Jones, a bookie in town, had met Adams at the parking lot to settle up on a bet. After the money exchanged hands, Jones testified that two men approached him and demanded his money.

“One of the men said, ‘Give me that money, old man,’ and he went right for where I carry my money in my left hand pocket. … I was mad. I knew I just got set up. Jason was the only one who knew we were going to meet there.”

Two men exiting the church saw the scuffle and one chased after one of the suspects. He was able to get a license plate number of the getaway vehicle.

Adams, who also took the stand in his defense, denied orchestrating the robbery and said he was assaulted and robbed of money as well.

“I lost $1,500 and no one has tried to get my money back,” Adams said, referring to the police investigation, which quickly pointed to Adams as a conspirator.

Warren Morford, Adams’ attorney, said his client, a respected member of the community whose reputation is now ruined, was falsely charged.

“We believe Mr. Adams was falsely charged so the Ironton Police Department could keep their dirty laundry from coming out about this gambling,” Morford said.

Morford also said Adams, who was, previous to his indictment, on the boards of three Little League teams, had access to and was trusted with large sums of money and was never accused of any impropriety.

Also indicted in connection with the robbery were two others — Scott Lewis and Ed Hampton — who have already pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Lewis agreed to testify in exchange for a five-year prison sentence.

Lewis, who said he and Adams were lifelong friends, testified that the plan to rob Jones was Adams’ idea and the two discussed the plot many times that day by phone.

“He came up with the initial idea and together we talked about it and decided we wanted to do it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he drove from Fairmont, West Virginia, to Ironton the day of the robbery and that Adams said the reason he wanted to rob Jones was to get money to put towards the purchase of a new home for him and his wife and children.

“Jason said there was a house on Rowe Street in Coal Grove for sale. He said his wife put pressure on him for that house. … There was a chance he could lose her as a wife and his kids. I didn’t want to see that happen.”

Lewis testified that throughout the day, he and Adams spoke over the phone about considering the crime, including telling Lewis what Jones looked like, the kind of car he drove and places he liked to frequent in town. Lewis also said Adams insisted Lewis’ uncle, Ed Hampton, be involved. Hampton also pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery earlier this year, but declined to testify.

Morford claimed throughout the trial that Lewis was the mastermind behind the robbery and he was not a credible witness.

“Isn’t true that your confession is a complete lie?” Morford asked Lewis. “This was your idea and Ed Hampton’s idea, wasn’t it?” to which Lewis responded, “No.”


Covering the trail

The day after the robbery, Adams went to the Ironton Police Department and gave a statement to detectives Mitch Crum and Joe Ross.

Adams said he didn’t get a good look at the two attackers who hit Jones and knocked him to the ground.

The detectives told Adams the license plate number obtained from a witness at the scene led back to a woman who said Scott Lewis borrow her vehicle that day.

“How would you think Scott would know that you were going to meet Sam at Central Christian Church last night?” detectives asked, to which Adams said he didn’t know.

Eventually, Adams did admit to having a conversation with Lewis months before the crime about how he would rob Jones if he were going to do it.

During the interview, Crum and Ross told Adams it wasn’t looking good for him and that he was now considered a suspect in the robbery.

Crum testified Thursday that he, as well as other members of the IPD, knew Adams well and it was difficult to imagine his friend being involved in the crime.

“He is the son-in-law to our ex-police chief Jim Carey,” Crum said. “It was one of the hardest investigations I have ever done. … I wasn’t initially looking at him as a suspect. I didn’t want him to be a suspect.”

During the interview, Adams denied having any contact with Lewis the day of the robbery, but the prosecution’s evidence concerning Adams’ cell phone usage showed the two men communicated about 40 times throughout the day before the robbery and after.

Adams also didn’t tell investigators the two men also met in person several times that day — at Ironton Giovanni’s, Johnny on the Spot, Dollar General and then at the crime scene.

“Are you telling this jury you forgot to tell them those details the day after the robbery?” Anderson asked Adams. “… Why didn’t you tell Detective Ross any of that?”

“Anytime I tried to answer a question, they would revert back to a different question,” Adams said. “I was answering their questions.”

“You didn’t make them aware of that information, did you?” Anderson asked, to which Adams replied, “No.”


Anatomy of a robbery

With AT&T phone records, Anderson put together a timeline of Adams’ communication with Lewis the day of the robbery.

The first call between the two was at 10:21 a.m. and lasted for 18 minutes.

Adams claimed he couldn’t remember the exact details of the conversation but that Lewis said he was having some family problems and that was the reason he was coming from Fairmont to the Ironton area.

Lewis testified that was when the two talked generally about the possibility of robbing Jones.

At 2:15 p.m., Adams, his father, brother and son ate at Giovanni’s Ironton. Lewis joined them. According to surveillance footage, they left the restaurant at 3:18 p.m.

That very minute, Anderson said, Adams and Lewis began a more than 20-minute phone conversation.

Lewis said the two talked about Jones, where he liked to go in town, his routine, what he looked like and what kind of car he drove.

Adams said he couldn’t remember what that two spoke about.

“I don’t think anyone could remember a conversation they had 11 months ago with anyone,” he said.

From 3:18 to around 7 p.m., Adams and Lewis spoke 24 times on the phone, according to the cell phone records. At 6:54 p.m., was when Jones said Adams asked him to exchange money at Johnny on the Spot parking lot on North Second Street.

Prior to Jones’ arrival at that location, Lewis said he, Hampton and Adams met there, but decided the area was too heavily trafficked.

Adams claimed Jones was lying and he didn’t ask to meet at that location.

At 7:54 p.m., surveillance footage showed the three men entering Dollar General and Adams buying two toy kits with fake guns.

At 8:23 p.m., Adams called Jones again to pick a new location. According to Jones, Adams claimed his child was sick and they were taking him to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Ironton and a better place to meet would be near there. Adams suggested Central Christian Church. Jones agreed.

At 8:26 p.m., Adams made another call to Lewis to tell him the new meeting place, according to the prosecution.

Adams and Jones met at the church some time shortly after 8:37 p.m. and exchanged money.

“Jason then asked Sam to meet him for a beer,” Anderson told the jury. “But what’s Jason Adams doing? He’s just stalling. Then boom, the robbery happens. Sam Jones knows immediately what’s happening. And he didn’t have half the evidence you have. Not even a fourth of the evidence.”

“Ed rushed in to get money from Sam’s left pocket,” Lewis testified of the robbery. “Jason rushed in and pretended like he was the innocent one. At some point, Jason was fighting with Ed. It was more staged than anything. I believe Ed acted like he was going to hit Jason. Ed hit Jason and Jason went down like he was hurt.”

Once the two witnesses from the church came upon the incident, Lewis and Hampton fled the scene.

One of the witnesses called 911 at about 8:43 p.m. Before police arrived at the scene, Adams made a 36-second call to Lewis.

“The reason you called him is you know they got his tag number,” Anderson said to Adams.

Between 9:33-9:35 p.m., Anderson said Adams “frantically” called Lewis four times, each time blocking his phone number.

“You didn’t want the police to see your number coming up on his phone,” Anderson told Adams.

Lewis didn’t answer the calls until Adams unblocked his number. They had multiple phone calls into the early morning hours of Jan. 15.

Adams also met with Hampton at Burger King in Ashland that night to get his share of the money, Anderson said.

Lewis said Hampton gave him a $3,200-share of the money, but he was unsure how much Hampton kept for himself. He also said he thought Adams also received $3,200.

Investigators did not release an exact figure on the amount of money stolen.

The next afternoon, records show Adams called Lewis at 1:49 p.m., about 15 minutes before his recorded interview with police detectives.

“He doesn’t tell detective Ross he was in Dollar General or with Scott Lewis and Ed Hampton just 30 minutes before the robbery, or that they bought the toy guns,” Anderson said. “Or that he talked to Lewis before police ever arrived on scene.

“…Whose story of events is more plausible? Not only did he assist with it (the robbery), he encouraged it, he participated in it, he set it up. No one else knew Jason and Sam were meeting. The location was only decided on minutes before the robbery. There is no doubt the defendant is guilty of complicity to aggravated robbery.”

After the verdict was announced, Anderson said he didn’t want to disclose his sentencing recommendation, but that he would recommend a “serious penalty.”

“This was a horrible crime,” he said. “We’ve taken this very seriously since day 1.”

The maximum penalty for a first-degree count of complicity to aggravated robbery is 11 years in prison.