Alleged driver in WR armed robbery to stand trial

WARNER ROBINS — The trial of the accused getaway driver for an alleged armed robber who was shot and killed by Warner Robins police is expected to get under way this week in Houston County Superior Court.

Albert Rucker Jr., 34, of Macon, who police say was parked outside the Food Lion at 2607 Moody Road in a 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser that turned out to be stolen, faces 34 charges, including attempted murder, in the Jan. 16, 2008, armed robbery.

Jury selection is expected today, with opening arguments from the prosecutor and defense attorney possible this afternoon.

The other charges against Rucker, according to the indictment, are two counts of armed robbery; two counts of burglary; three counts of aggravated assault; three counts of kidnapping; three counts of false imprisonment; one count theft by taking; three counts of aggravated assault on a police officer; one count of theft by receiving stolen property; 13 counts of possession of a firearm during a crime; and two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Leon Stanford, 38, also known as Charles Thompson, of Macon, whom Houston County Superior Court records refer to as the “deceased codefendant,” was shot and killed by police inside the Food Lion. Stanford was later identified by Macon police as the man who killed Macon businessman Waldo Sheftall, 54, who was found shot to death in his Washington Avenue home Oct. 10, 2007.

Most of the charges against Rucker stem from the state’s “party to a crime” law, which allows someone to be charged for the criminal acts of another if they help with the crime, explained Houston County Assistant District Attorney Duncan Munn, who is prosecuting the case.

Rucker is charged with the attempted murder of Warner Robins police Officer Don Edwards in the Food Lion armed robbery, though Stanford is alleged to have actually fired the weapon.

Warner Robins police Officer Darrin Johnson testified in a Jan. 29 pre-trial motions hearing that Rucker was discovered in the PT Cruiser in the parking lot of the Food Lion when police were responding to a 911 call of an armed robbery in progress, according to Houston County Superior Court records. Johnson testified that Rucker told him, “I’m just here waiting for my wife.”

Also, during a Feb. 3 pre-trial motions hearing, Judge Edward D. Lukemire told attorneys he was going to allow in court a statement from the dying Stanford to police right after he was shot indicating that the man in the PT Cruiser was with him.

Rucker and Stanford met at the Macon Transitional Center, a facility designed to help former prison inmates re-intergrate into society.

Stanford had been in prison for aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and theft by taking.

Rucker was still on parole for forgery when he was arrested in connection with the armed robbery, according to Houston County court records. Houston County Maj. Charles Holt, jail administrator, said Rucker’s parole was revoked and he was sent back to prison. According to the Department of Corrections Web site, Rucker also had previous convictions for forgery and for entering a vehicle.

Houston County Assistant Public Defender Claudia E. Meier, who is representing Rucker, submitted a subpoena to Macon police for the investigative file in the Sheftall murder case, according to court records.

The weapon seized by police in the Food Lion armed robbery was released to Macon police to be tested to see if it was the same weapon used in the Sheftall murder case, according to court documents.

Rucker also is a suspect in the January 2008 armed robbery of a Subway in Gwinnett County in which a customer’s car was also stolen.

Gwinnett County police officer Keith Wiggins testified during the Jan. 29 pre-trial motions hearing that Rucker was picked out from a photo lineup by one of the victims in the armed robbery and car theft, according to court records.

“When they (Macon police) talk to him, to Mr. Rucker, he indicates to them that Mr. Stanford had mentioned, had implied, something about him, about Mr. Stanford ... committing this murder on the drive back from the Subway robbery to Bibb County before the Food Lion robbery,” Munn said during the Feb. 3 pre-trial motions hearing, according to court records.

Information from The Telegraph archives was used in this report.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.