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Heroin was at the core of the robbery and beating of 80-year-old Bob Terry in Oct. 2011.
The highly-addictive drug also proved to be the impetus for a plea agreement reached in the case Tuesday in Bedford County Circuit Court.
According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz, Jason Andrew Shell, 39, of Roanoke robbed Terry late Saturday evening on Oct. 1, 2011, in order to get money to buy more heroin. Krantz, however, added Tuesday that two of his key witnesses in the case were recently arrested for possessing that drug and have admitted to long-standing addictions to heroin.
With their testimony at risk of being impeached—Shell has maintained those witnesses, James Presnell and Bethany Craig, were involved—Krantz said he was inclined to take Shell’s no contest plea on charges of robbery, aggravated malicious wounding and use of a firearm in commission of a felony.
Judge James Updike accepted the pleas Tuesday, found Shell guilty on those three charges and sentenced him to 28 years in prison, with 10 years suspended. Shell received a 5-year sentence for robbery, 20 year sentence for aggravated malicious wounding of which 10 years are suspended, and three years on the firearms conviction. Shell will have to serve 10 years of supervised probation should he be released.
“The risk of acquittal was simply too great,” Krantz said of working out the plea deal. “I don’t know that there’s any sentence that is enough.”
Still, Krantz said 18 years in prison gets into the range of sentences handed down in some murder cases. “Mr. Terry was pleased with this agreement,” Krantz said of the victim, noting it also eliminated several layers of litigation.
Had he been convicted by a jury, Shell could have faced 5 years to life on the robbery charge and 20 years to life on the aggravated malicious wounding charge.
Krantz noted that, for the most part, Bob Terry has recovered from the beating he took at the hands of Mr. Shell. Terry suffered broken bones in his jaw and cheek and had six screws put in. He also had bruises to his upper body.
That attack took place around 9 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2011, as Terry was leaving his store, Terry’s Country Store. Around 9:07 p.m. Terry showed up at a neighbor’s home, bloodied, but at that point alert, and told them what had happened. By the time the rescue squad arrived there a few minutes later, Terry had slipped into shock, according to Krantz.
Terry’s firearm was taken during the robbery which eventually led Presnell to contact authorities, through an attorney, with information about the case. Presnell told authorities—after initially denying any knowledge of the incident—that he had attempted to sell the gun for Shell to his cousin, following the robbery. When that failed, Presnell told authorities he gave the gun back to Shell. The gun was never recovered.
Shell was arrested by the Vinton Police Department on Oct. 6, 2011, following a routine traffic stop in which he fled the scene. Krantz stated during Tuesday’s hearing that Shell’s actions were, in part, an admission of guilt about the attack on Terry.
Krantz, however, said no forensic evidence was discovered directly tying Shell to the attack on Terry. That, coupled with the shaky testimony of Presnell and his girlfriend Bethany Craig, led him to be willing to accept a plea agreement.
A call Shell had with his girlfriend, following his arrest, would have served as an admission to the crime, Krantz stated.
Bethany Craig and James Presnell both testified at a preliminary hearing in the case that Shell had threatened to kill them if they told authorities that he had admitted to robbing Terry. Craig’s daughter, Crystal Collins, was dating Shell at the time of the robbery. Presnell had testified both he and Collins had attempted to sell the gun, brought to them by Shell, to his cousin.
At the preliminary hearing James Presnell testified that Shell admitted to hitting Terry “a couple of times” and that, after the attack, he left Terry on the ground “gurgling.”
Krantz said any evidence that comes up to tie anyone else to the crime will be investigated. But, he added, the plea agreement was not based on any evidence Shell might provide to authorities.
Shell had also faced a charge of possession of a firearm by a felon, but that charge was dropped by the commonwealth.