A judge has ordered a 31-year-old man to spend 35 years behind bars for committing three convenience store robberies that were part of a series of armed heists that terrorized the Modesto area.
A jury in late June found Edward Deandre Mitchell guilty of committing the Modesto robberies at the am-pm minimarket on Standiford Avenue, the Stop N Save on Oakdale Road and the Stop N Save on Coffee Road.
The prosecution also accused Mitchell of participating in three other convenience store holdups over a two-month span in 2006. Those holdups included a robbery at BK Liquors at 150 Riverside Drive in east Modesto, where a robber fatally shot the store's owner, Balbir Boyal.
The jurors decided there was not sufficient evidence presented to prove Mitchell robbed BK Liquors and killed Boyal on June 7, 2006. The jury also found Mitchell not guilty of committing an armed robbery at One Stop Gas N Go and an attempted robbery at the Sunset Market.
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira handed Mitchell the 35-year prison sentence on May 11. John Goold, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office, said Mitchell must serve 85 percent of his sentence before he can become eligible for parole.
Mitchell was accused of another robbery at Sylvan Liquors, but the jury was deadlocked on that charge.
Prosecutors could have sought a second trial for the Sylvan Liquors robbery. Goold said the District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute on the remaining robbery charge after Judge Silveira rejected a motion for a new trial on the convicted charges.
The series of armed robberies had Modesto convenience store owners and employees gripped with fear, since some of the store clerks were shot even after complying with thieves and handing over cash.
Like the other store clerks victimized, Boyal was held up at gunpoint by a masked gunman. Boyal tried reaching for a baseball bat moments before the gunman opened fire.
Mitchell's conviction included enhancements for using a gun and inflicting great bodily injury in two of three robberies he committed. The enhancements would have made Mitchell eligible for a life in prison sentence with a chance of parole.
But the judge dropped the enhancements before sentencing, Goold said. In Silveira's decision to drop the enhancement she considered Mitchell's age at the time of the robberies and that drugs and alcohol were likely factors in his criminal behavior, according to Goold.
Mitchell has been held at the Stanislaus County Jail since his arrest in mid-June 2006; he was 19 at the time.
Goold said the judge also considered the fact that Mitchell's co-defendant, Laron Tavon Davis, who is four years older than Mitchell, was the getaway driver in the robberies and received a plea deal from prosecutors in exchange for his testimony against Mitchell.
Mitchell was represented in the trial by defense attorneys David Headley and Lawrence Barnes based in the Bay Area. Headley argued in the trial that the prosecution’s “star witness,” Davis, lied to authorities to get his plea deal and avoid identifying a member of a notorious Oakland street gang as the man responsible for the series of violent robberies.
Davis testified he was the getaway driver in the series of 2006 Modesto armed robberies, but he didn’t want to be involved in any shootings.
The prosecution argued that in all but one of the robberies, a single gunman who covered his face robbed convenience store clerks and shot or tried to shoot five of the clerks. In one of the robberies, two gunmen entered the store.
Deputy District Attorney Tanja Titre and Assistant District Attorney Dave Harris prosecuted the case. Titre told the jury that Boyal stayed behind the counter and reached for the bat to defend himself just before he was shot four times.
Mitchell on Friday remained in custody at the jail, where he awaited to be transferred to prison.