“I need the money. I need it now!” the masked robber screamed at a Beloit gas station clerk as he pointed a pink and black handgun at her face Oct. 3, 2016.
More than two years and a six-day jury trial later, a Rock County jury determined the robber was Michael O. Statler, 25, of 1517 Henry Ave., Beloit.
The jury found Statler guilty of party to armed robbery in eight armed robberies in the fall of 2016, mostly in Beloit but also in Janesville.
He was one of several accused in the crimes, but he claimed he didn’t do it. Rather, it was someone who might have looked like him under that mask, Anthony D.S. Lowery, 18.
Statler and Lowery are both light-skinned black men who wore their hair in dreadlocks at the time, and the robbers wore masks, according to testimony in the extraordinarily complicated trial.
The jury was able to view Lowery and Statler up close during the six-day trial, and lawyers on both sides argued over the evidence of who was who.
The jury has to sift through mountains of testimony and other evidence, including 200 exhibits. They spent about six hours doing so.
Statler had objected that none in the jury appeared to be black, but Judge Michael Haakenson said he found no reason to question the jury-selection process.
The robberies extended over seven weeks in 2016:
- Oct. 3, Pilot Oil, 3001 Milwaukee Road, Beloit.
- Oct. 25, Speedway Gas Station, 2781 Milwaukee Road, Beloit.
- Oct. 26, Rocky’s Grocery Store, 1101 St. Lawrence Ave., Beloit.
- Nov. 14, Dave’s Bait and Tackle, 901 Bayliss Ave., Beloit.
- Nov. 16, Citgo Gas Station, 2154 Prairie Ave., Beloit.
- Nov. 17, Grain & Grape Liquor Store, 1514 E. Racine St., Janesville. The store owner suffered a scrape on the nose from being struck in the face.
- Nov. 19, Rock River Grocery, 1800 Sixth St., Beloit.
- Nov. 19, A man walking home after shopping at Sun Valley Drive and Poff Street, Beloit. He, along with some of the clerks and one bystander, were assaulted in the robberies, according to the criminal complaints.
Lowery, who faces two counts of party to armed robbery, testified against Statler.
Deshawn A. Parker, 23, of 404 Wisconsin Ave., Beloit, who has already been sentenced for his part in the robberies, also testified at the trial.
Co-prosecutor Anne Nack said Parker and Statler were the main actors.
Lowery has a plea agreement pending with the district attorney’s office that could get him 10 years of probation with a year in jail, if he testified truthfully, Judge Michael Haakenson told the jury.
Defense attorney Michael Gonzalez in closing arguments suggested Lowery was lying to save himself: “He’s getting a golden ticket based on this. ... Nothing is beyond Mr. Lowery as long as it protects himself.”
Nack said in her closing statement that Lowery is “no choir boy” and that he lied to authorities before he began telling the truth.
Evidence included DNA from Statler on the cuff of a sweatshirt tied to a robbery, but Statler’s mother testified Statler would use his teeth to pull off the sleeve and that Parker often lived with her family and wore Statler’s clothing.
Assistant District Attorney Katherine said the DNA was taken from the inside, not the outside, of the cuff.
Gonzalez said the man the prosecution says was Statler was described as having hazel or “grassy” colored eyes, but Statler’s eyes are quite dark.
Buker responded that color perception is subjective, noting that some people see one color, while others will call it something else.
It all adds up to a “very strong circumstantial case,” Buker said.
Buker pointed to photos from the Janesville robbery, which she said are the clearest in showing that the man was Statler, with his sharper nose and thinner build. She said Lowery was heavier with broader facial features.
As to Lowery’s “golden ticket,” he will still need to get through nine years of probation without a slip-up, Buker noted, adding: “That’s a long time to have to conform.”
Buker erred during final arguments Tuesday, alluding to the fact that Statler is in jail. Court officials had gone to great lengths to keep that fact from jurors, to keep from prejudicing the jury.
Judge Michael Haakenson told the jury to dismiss any reference to Statler being in custody. Haakenson set sentencing for Friday, March 23.
Gonzalez moved for a mistrial after the jury went to deliberate. Haakenson denied the motion.
Lowery has been charged with two counts of party to armed robbery, to which he pleaded not guilty a year ago.