1988 Riverside robbery case still in limbo

Autrey Lee Love Jr. was 18 years old when he pleaded guilty to robbing the Shoney’s Inn on Riverside Drive in Macon on Jan. 3, 1988.

Twenty-two years later, Love has not been sentenced, and he’s withdrawn his guilty plea.

The district attorney’s office is in the process of deciding whether the case will go to trial.

Now 40 years old, Love has spent much of the time since 1988 in prison after being convicted in at least two other cases, according to state and federal prison records.

This year, Bibb County prosecutor Garrison A. Wood got a phone call from a federal prison in Atlanta concerning Love and discovered the robbery case against him was still pending.

“The problem is the sentence was never properly entered at that time, so he wasn’t sentenced in the eye of the law,” Wood said.

Until a sentence is pronounced by a judge, a defendant can take back a guilty plea, he said.

A transcript of the Nov. 17, 1988, plea hearing describes a deal in which Love would plead guilty to robbery by intimidation and draw a sentence of 10 years in prison in exchange for helping find his co-defendants and testifying against them.

A statement given by Love, read at the hearing, revealed details of how Love and three other men robbed the motel, with one man holding a shotgun, stealing $149 from the cash register.

Within hours of the robbery, the four men were caught by authorities while trying to steal a car in DeKalb County, according to the transcript.

It’s unclear why Love wasn’t sentenced, said Wood, who was 6 years old at the time of the plea hearing.

The prosecutor who handled the case, Charles Weston, was an assistant district attorney at the time. He later served as district attorney before leaving office in 2000.

“Somewhere it got lost in the shuffle,” Weston said. “It’s unfortunate that it didn’t get dealt with.”

Weston said the case previously resurfaced at least once, if not twice, since Love initially pleaded guilty in 1988, but nothing was done because Love already was serving prison time for unrelated offenses.

Charges were dropped in 1994 against 40-year-old Shawn Archer of Atlanta, one of Love’s co-defendants in the Bibb County robbery case, because Archer was incarcerated for a lengthy time in connection with another case.

A bench warrant still is valid for a third man, 60-year-old Vinson Bernard Dowell, Wood said.

The district attorney’s office has located the main victim in the robbery, two case detectives and another witness.

“We’re attempting to locate other witnesses and to determine whether any physical evidence still exists,” Wood said.

When contacted by the district attorney’s office, the victim was upset that the case had not been resolved 22 years ago, Wood said.

A decision has not been made about whether Love’s case will be tried.

“We are attempting to do whatever we can to locate witnesses and weigh our options about how to resolve the case,” Wood said.

“If there’s any way to correct the mistake that was made 22 years ago, then that’s what we’ll do.”

In his 17-year law career, Love’s attorney, Rick Waller, said he’s never handled a case like this.

“It’s a very strange set of circumstances,” Waller said.

If the case does end up going to trial, attorneys may have to wade through constitutional issues concerning Love’s right to a speedy trial, Waller said.

He said Love “wants to have this behind him.”

For the past several years, Love has been in federal prison.

He pleaded guilty in 2002 to conspiracy to two federal firearms crimes, according to federal court records.

Love initially was indicted along with 13 other people in federal court in Atlanta on allegations that the group posed as law enforcement officers, robbed drug traffickers and distributed the drugs for profit. On some occasions, the drug traffickers were beaten and tortured, according to the indictment.

Love was sentenced to 11 years and two months in prison and is scheduled for release in December 2011. He also must serve five years on supervised release, according to court records.

Love is being held at the Bibb County jail, according to Bibb County jail records.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.