July 22, 2011

And today in Billy news...

Any time a robber's getaway vehicle of choice is a lawnmower, and his weapon of choice is a tree limb - you know you're in Billy country.

Lawn mower getaway robber gets 18 years
By ANNA DOLIANITIS - Staff writer - email:adolianitis@aikenstandard.com

An Aiken man was sentenced to 18 years in prison Wednesday for robbing an Aiken convenience store, assaulting a store employee with a tree limb and fleeing the scene using an altered riding lawn mower as a getaway vehicle.

Ricky New, 46, of Edgefield Highway, was found guilty by a jury after about an hour of deliberation, and Judge Michael Nettles sentenced New to 18 years for armed robbery and 10 years for assault and battery, to run concurrently.

New, according to court testimony over the two-day trial, robbed the Kent's Korner convenience store on Edgefield Highway at about 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 18, demanded the money - which totaled about $300 - from the cash register, ran into a wooded area past the store and was arrested about a mile away from Kent's Korner, with his getaway lawn mower parked outside another convenience store.

The lawn mower was painted in camouflage and altered to be a more functional vehicle, with large tires, a doorbell and a fishing rod on the back.

"This story is made for Hollywood," said assistant solicitor Kip McAlister. "Unfortunately, this is real life, this happened right here (in Aiken)."

Surveillance video from the convenience store showed New entering the store with a white towel covering his face, but the two employees present at the time testified in court that they knew immediately it was him, and 911 audio recordings played for the jury indicated they knew him by name because he was a regular at the store.

The two women testified that they initially believed New was joking when he demanded the money, but he attempted to strike the store manager in the face with the limb. She lifted her arms to protect herself, and he hit her in the arm.

Defense attorney Michael Routzong said perhaps the reason that the man with a white towel on his head was not acting like Ricky New was because it may not have been him, but the manager was quick to say that his stature is unique, and she was certain it was him.

"I think the video that you watched is a pretty clear indication that he may not have been thinking clearly ... but he had a plan. It was not a good plan, it was not a plan that was likely to lead to success ... but he had a plan," Miller said.

Evidence presented by the prosecution also included the white towel, which was found on the lawn mower when New was arrested, as well as a glove that was found in the wooded area where he was last seen running from Kent's Korner.

DNA on the glove matched New's DNA, and another glove found on the lawn mower was the second in the same pair, said assistant solicitor David Miller.

The clothes that New was wearing when arrested matched those seen on the surveillance video, including a bleach stain on the right pant leg of the blue jeans.

The lawn mower was submitted as the State's exhibit No. 8 and parked in a parking space below the courthouse, where the jury was taken to view it during the trial.

Among the items found on New when he was arrested was just more than $100 - 45 singles, 10 $5 bills, and two $10 bills, according to sheriff's office investigator Chuck Cain.

In recent years, Miller said, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office has had 56 documented encounters with New, including calls made that evening about a man driving his lawn mower in the roadway without his headlights on and New standing outside Kent's Korner "harassing customers."

New's prior record includes charges such as criminal domestic violence, forgery, receiving stolen goods and burglary in South Carolina, Georgia, California and Louisiana, according to Miller.

New did not testify on his own behalf, and the defense did not call any witnesses.

New's father addressed the judge, saying that he loved his son, and that he is not a violent person, but has substance abuse issues and needs help.

In addition to his prison sentence, Judge Nettles ordered New to participate in an addiction treatment program.

Aiken County Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond Jr. said, while the getaway vehicle and parts of the trial may be comical, the crime is a serious one.

"I know that the facts of this case may give Jeff Foxworthy some new material, but I hope the verdict and substantial sentence reassures the public that this office will aggressively prosecute armed robbers, regardless of the type of weapon involved," Thurmond said.

Contact Anna Dolianitis at adolianitis@aikenstandard.com.

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