On a Thursday morning in the fall of 2016, a man at the wheel of a blue Dodge compact dropped his girlfriend off at work and later drove to a Family Dollar. Then he walked in and, with a scary mask hiding his face and a BB pistol in each hand, robbed the store of $145.
The store, which sits across Pio Nono Avenue from the now-closed Macon fried chicken mecca known as St. Cotton’s Cafeteria, lies a half a mile or so north of Eisenhower Parkway.
While inside, the bandit ducked down an aisle and pulled a hooded Halloween mask over his head. The white-faced mask afforded him the same ghostly visage worn by the killer in the “Scream” horror movies, and he soon startled a clerk who was shelving cigarettes behind the front counter.
“You better not say nothing,” Jerome D. Nelson Jr., then 25, told the clerk, his BB guns aimed at her. “Open the register before I shoot you.”
Details of the Sept. 29, 2016, stickup emerged in Bibb County Superior Court on Tuesday when Nelson pleaded guilty to armed robbery and aggravated assault, the latter charge coming for holding the clerk at gunpoint.
A friend of Nelson’s in court later assumed the judge might go easier on Nelson because Nelson’s weapons that day were BB pistols. The friend was mistaken. Nelson could have faced life in prison. Instead he got 20 years.
What’s more, investigators might never have known the types of guns Nelson used that day had he not left both of them on the store’s counter. After the cash register drawer opened, he had set the pistols down, scooped out $145 and, for whatever reason, never picked up the guns.
He took off in his girlfriend’s Dodge Caliber. People at the store wrote down its license plate number. Within a couple of days, Nelson was in jail.
On Tuesday in court, his lawyer said Nelson had a bad drug problem, and that it contributed to the crime.
Nelson, now 27, said nothing on his behalf. Asked by Judge Howard Z. Simms how he pleaded, Nelson replied, “Ummm, guilty.”
In explaining Nelson’s sentence to him — 20 years all told, 10 behind bars and 10 more on probation — the judge informed Nelson that his guilty plea was a smart choice. Nelson would probably be doing far more time had he gone to trial and lost.
“Mr. Nelson, this is a wise thing that you’ve done,” Simms said. “Because I can promise you, if a jury convicted you on those facts, 20 years wouldn’t even be in the discussion.”