EASTON, Pa. - A former employee at a Bethlehem Township cell phone store robbed at gunpoint testified Thursday how he was tackled and dragged back into store after trying to make a run for it.
Preliminary hearings were scheduled Thursday for Vaughn-Darrius Felix and Gregory Lewis in connection to the Jan. 5, 2017, armed robbery of the AT&T store off Route 191 in Northampton County. Felix waived his preliminary hearing, and District Judge Patricia Broscius sent all charges against Lewis onto county court.
The next court dates for both men are formal arraignments scheduled for June 21. Authorities charged both with robbery, theft, kidnapping, receiving stolen property and conspiracy.
Robert Eyer, Lewis’s defense attorney, argued that the prosecution had not even come close to making its prima facie case to support the kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping charges. Authorities allege that the two robbers forced two store employees into a bathroom, while they cleaned out an estimated $85,000 worth of merchandise.
Testimony revealed that the employees listened from the bathroom as the robbers filled a large, plastic garbage bag with merchandise and left the store through a back door. They waited two or three more minutes to make sure the coast was clear before emerging from the bathroom.
Assistant District Attorney Patricia Fuentes-Mulqueen acknowledged that kidnapping was an “interesting charge” as most people would envision someone being dragged into a car and driven away. But the charge allows for someone to be put “in a place of isolation,” and the employees were forced at gunpoint into a bathroom, she said.
The judge agreed and allowed the charge to stand.
Eyer also argued against allowing the hearsay testimony of Felix, his client’s co-defendant. Recent case law has allowed the admission of hearsay testimony during a preliminary hearing, but the testimony presented Thursday was essentially a confession from Felix that implicates Lewis, Eyer said.
Fuentes-Mulqueen countered that nothing in case law prevents the prosecution from using such hearsay testimony to make its prima facie case at a preliminary hearing.
Lewis and Felix have been charged in connection with a string of cell phone store robberies and the homicide of an employee from a Forks Township cell phone store. They’ve also been implicated in the robbery of a Wilson Borough jewelry store.
The case against Lewis in the Bethlehem Township robbery appears to hinge on a December 2017 interview Felix gave to authorities investigating the rash of armed robberies.
Det. James Taylor with the Palmer Township Police Department served on a task force investigating the robberies. Taylor said he interviewed Felix last December as he was a suspect at the time in at least three robberies.
With his attorney present, Felix allegedly admitted to committing the Bethlehem Township robbery with “Trig,” who he had identified during the interview as Lewis, according to Taylor.
Taylor testified that Felix said it was his idea to rob the cell phone store because he noticed you couldn’t see the inside of the store from Route 191, making it a good target. Felix allegedly told investigators that he and Lewis planned the heist and that it was Lewis who tackled the store employee, who tried to run.
Store employees told authorities that only one man brandished a gun during the robbery. Taylor testified that Felix said he also had a gun, but never pulled it during the robbery.
During cross-examination by the defense, Taylor said investigators already had people in custody before the December 2017 interview with Felix, prompting Eyer asked whether that was the first time “Felix told you this story.” Taylor acknowledged that interview was the first time Felix told investigators about the Bethlehem Township robbery.
Neither store employee could provide police with a description of the assailants because they were dressed in all black and wore masks and gloves. The victims told authorities they believed they knew the race of the assailants and described one as tall and skinny and the other one as shorter and chubbier.
Guillermo Cruz testified that he and his co-worker were preparing to close for the night, when they were “bum-rushed” by two masked men. It was five minutes before closing time and there were no other customers in the store, he said.
Cruz said he managed to burst through the emergency exit, but was tackled by the taller assailant, who put a gun in his lower back, told him not to try anything else and dragged him back inside the store.
Cruz testified that the gunman directed he and his co-worker into the bathroom and returned a short time later to order the other employee to empty any cash out of the register. He said their cell phones and his wallet were taken.
A Bethlehem Township police detective testified earlier that the victims were clearly shaken when offices arrived.
“Were you scared?” Fuentes-Mulqueen asked.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Cruz replied.
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