Rucker gets life sentence plus 75 years

PERRY — A Houston County jury found the getaway driver guilty of a 2008 armed robbery in Warner Robins, but not guilty of attempted murder of a city police officer who shot and killed a robber inside the store.

Judge Edward D. Lukemire sentenced Albert Rucker Jr., 34, of Macon, to life in prison plus 75 years for the armed robbery and related convictions. The earliest Rucker would be eligible for parole on the life sentence would be 30 years.

Rucker faced a 34-count indictment for the Jan. 16, 2008, armed robbery of the Food Lion at 2607 Moody Road in which Leon Stanford, 38, of Macon, was shot and killed by Warner Robins police officer Don Edwards.

After deliberating for several hours over two days, jurors returned a mixed verdict Friday.

Jurors found Rucker guilty of two counts of armed robbery, three counts of aggravated assault, three counts of false imprisonment, one count of theft by taking, one count of theft by receiving and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

Rucker was found not guilty of attempted murder, three counts of aggravated assault on police officers, two counts of burglary, three counts of kidnapping, 12 counts of possession of a firearm during a crime and one count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Stanford. During the trial, Lukemire dismissed another count of involuntary manslaughter because the indictment did not specify the alleged reckless conduct.

During Rucker’s sentencing hearing Friday afternoon, Rosemary Anderson of Mississippi and Melony Bagla of Dalton, Rucker’s mother and sister, pleaded for leniency. Anderson said that a lot of what Rucker told jurors during the trial he’d also told her, so she knew it was true. Anderson said her son was not a “thug” as she said he was made out to be in court.

Bagla noted that she’d been a victim of being forced to do something she didn’t want to do and, knowing what that is like, she said she believed her brother. She also told the judge that Rucker once saved her life.

During the trial, Rucker testified that Stanford initiated the Jan. 13, 2008, armed robbery of a Gwinnett County Subway and the theft of a customer’s PT Cruiser, and that he got caught up.

Rucker told jurors that Stanford kept showing up around him, as on the day of the Food Lion armed robbery, and compelled him to go with him and to drive the stolen PT Cruiser. Rucker, who was on parole for forgery, was arrested in the stolen car by Warner Robins police arriving to a 911 dispatch of an armed robbery in progress.

Rucker told jurors he feared for his life, and that Stanford had bragged about killing a Macon man. Macon police identified Stanford in 2009 as the man who killed businessman Waldo Sheftall, 54, in 2007.

Lukemire commended the mother and sister for standing behind Rucker, but noted that the sentence was reflective of the jury’s verdict.

“The truth of the matter is, the jury said, ‘No,’ to a coercion defense,” Lukemire said from the bench.

Assistant public defender Claudia Meier had argued for leniency, noting that Rucker had no prior violent felony convictions and was found guilty under the state’s party to a crime statute.

Assistant public defender Robert Surrency noted after the hearing that Rucker never had a gun, never tied up the Food Lion employees but was convicted of those criminal acts as a party to the crime.

Assistant district attorney Duncan Munn argued that because Rucker served as the driver and lookout, he was just as guilty as if he committed the criminal acts inside the store.

During sentencing, Munn noted Rucker testified that Warner Robins police officers who had risked their lives were lying, which showed that Rucker had no remorse. Outside the courtroom, Munn said he wanted to thank officers for helping to put together the case.

“I want to thank the jury for sending a clear message that we don’t consider these type of armed robberies run of the mill,” Munn said. “We take things like that seriously in Houston County and we’re not going to shy away from coming down hard on criminals like the defendant.”

Mark Johnson, the jury foreman, said the verdict was the result of give and take among jurors. Johnson said he was disappointed that the jury did not find Rucker guilty of aggravated assault on the police officers and of attempted murder of Edwards but that jurors agreed in the end that there was insufficient evidence.

“I want the police officers of Houston County to know that,” said Johnson, who once worked security at the Bibb County Courthouse. “They did a great job.”