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Jury still out in trial of getaway driver in Houston

PERRY — Jury deliberations are expected to resume this morning in the Houston County trial of the accused getaway driver for an armed robber who was shot and killed by Warner Robins police in 2008.

Albert Rucker Jr., 34, of Macon, is on trial in Superior Court on multiple charges, including armed robbery, attempted murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping and involuntary manslaughter.

Rucker was discovered in the parking lot of the Food Lion at 2607 Moody Road in a stolen 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser by police dispatched to a 911 of an armed robbery in progress. Leon Stanford, 38, also known as Charles Thompson, of Macon, told police before he died that the man outside in the PT Cruiser was with him, according to trial testimony.

After nearly an hour of deliberations Thursday, jurors asked for Judge Edward D. Lukemire to repeat the legal definitions of party to a crime, coercion and intent. Jurors also wanted to know whether Rucker just being at the Food Lion with Stanford meant that he was guilty.

Lukemire responded by reading to jurors the legal definitions of the terms as he had earlier charged them, as well as those for mere presence and mere association.

The jury deliberated a few more hours before recessing.

In closing arguments earlier Thursday, assistant district attorney Duncan Munn told jurors that Rucker helped in the armed robbery by driving Stanford to the Food Lion, counting people inside the grocery store before Stanford went in, and then waiting outside for him.

Under the state’s party to the crime law, Rucker is guilty of all the criminal acts taken by Stanford during the armed robbery as if he did the acts himself, Munn told jurors.

But assistant public defender Claudia Meier argued that Rucker’s mere presence was not enough to convict Rucker and that the prosecution failed to prove Rucker helped plan and participate in the alleged crimes.

Meier also argued that jurors must first decide whether Stanford committed the crimes before considering whether Rucker was a party to the crime.

On the charge of attempted murder of police officer Don Edwards, for example, Rucker is charged as a party to the crime of Stanford firing at the officer during the armed robbery.

Meier presented a scenario for jurors in which Stanford, whom she said was a “bad dude,” slipped when he was alone in the meat cutting room and that his gun discharged in the fall. She noted that the bullet struck a metal cart at ankle-level and that Stanford was subsequently shot by Edwards as he came through the double doors back into the main part of the store.

But Munn told jurors that Edwards was fired on as he crossed in front of the double doors in front of the meat cutting room and that the cart was in line with a shot being fired toward the doors and at Edwards.

The doors have windows in which people inside the cutting room can see out, but people outside cannot see in, according to court testimony.

“We’re not attacking the cop,” Meier told jurors. “We’re attacking the facts and the evidence.”

But Munn argued the defense was “crucifying police and putting them on trial.”

If jurors thought Rucker did participate with Stanford, Meier asked them to consider whether Rucker was under duress and coerced.

Meier told jurors that Rucker was “the perfect victim” and “easy prey” for Stanford. Rucker, a Mississippi native, couldn’t just pack up and leave Bibb County because he was on parole for forging checks, Meier said. She noted that Stanford had bragged to Rucker about killing Macon businessman Waldo Sheftall in 2007.

“Leon doesn’t just point a gun,” Meier told jurors. “He backs it up. He’s crossed the line. He’s taken a human life, and he’s bragged about it.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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