Crime

Witness: Store manager complied with robber’s demands before fatal shooting

Wendy Patterson had been a clerk at a Chevron station on Riverside Drive about nine months before a man shot the store manager dead during a robbery Aug. 30, 2009.

Dipak “Danny” Patel was standing to her left with his arms in the air when the shot rang out.

Patel fell to the floor, bleeding. Patterson held his hand, telling him to “hold on” until paramedics could get there.

Patel, 29, let go of her hand before the ambulance arrived, Patterson testified Tuesday during the trial for a man accused of Patel’s slaying.

Maurice Murray Battle, now 21, is charged with murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault. Prosecutors previously had sought the death penalty in Battle’s case, but they changed their minds after receiving evidence related to his mental health history.

Patterson testified Tuesday that she and Patel were preparing to close the store, located at 1257 Riverside Drive, just before 10 p.m. that Sunday when two men showed up at the store’s locked door and asked to come inside.

Patel said it was OK to let the men in, so Patterson paused from her duties “counting down the register” to press an automatic switch that unlocked the door.

Willie Griffin, 37, said he and his friend had gathered the items they planned to buy when two other men burst into the store. Patterson hadn’t re-locked the door.

During Patterson’s testimony, jurors were shown video surveillance of the night’s events. Some grimaced. Others took notes.

A voice from the courtroom TV barked “put your hands up.”

Patterson testified that a man carrying a backpack went behind the counter and took money from the register while a second man pointed a rifle at her, Patel and the two customers.

After taking money, cigars and cigarettes, the man with the backpack headed for the door. The man with the gun instructed Patel and Patterson to move closer to “the pornos,” Patterson said.

The two employees complied, but the gunman fired a shot at Patel and then left, she said.

Patterson said Patel had stood “very, very still” during the robbery. With the robbers gone, she hit the panic button and called for help.

Patel died soon after reaching the hospital. The bullet from the robber’s gun entered his armpit, passed through both of his lungs and struck a major artery, prosecutor Sandra Matson said in her opening statement to the jury.

Within a few days, Macon police had arrested Battle, his half brother, 28-year-old Korey Stephens, and 27-year-old Rashard Jeran Harris.

Harris has admitted that he went behind the counter during the robbery and took cash from the register. Stephens admitted he gave Battle a ride to the Chevron, Matson said.

Both men have accepted plea bargains, which include their testifying at Battle’s trial.

Battle called Stephens’ girlfriend from jail and, while speaking in code, told her to move the gun and backpack used in the robbery before Harris told police where the items were hidden near the Crest Drive home where she and the three men lived, Matson said.

The girlfriend told police about the conversation, and they found shoes Battle allegedly wore during the robbery, the backpack and a .22-caliber rifle that later was matched to a shell casing recovered from the store, Matson said.

Joseph Romond, one of Battle’s attorneys, questioned the credibility and motives behind testimony to be provided by Harris, Stephens, Stephens’ girlfriend and other witnesses.

He noted that Stephens’ girlfriend had been in the Chevron store playing the lottery 20 minutes before the robbery, but she was not charged with participating in the robbery or murder.

Patterson and the two customers from the store chose a man from a photo line-up and said he was the man who shot Patel. After police charged the man with murder, detectives spotted him on security video at Gold Cup Bowling Alley at the time of the killing and a friend provided a receipt, Romond said.

But the video isn’t scheduled to be shown to the jury, he said.

“We’re going to have to take their word on that,” he said.

Police have no forensic evidence -- fingerprints or DNA -- linking Battle to the crime, Romond said.

“If Mr. Battle is guilty of anything, he’s guilty of being an 18-year-old with some pretty lousy friends,” he said.

Testimony in the case is scheduled to continue Wednesday.

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

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