A career criminal who tried to rob a Dollar Tree store last Thanksgiving Day in southeast Fresno – only to be stopped by a customer in the checkout line – was convicted Tuesday of attempted robbery, assault with a semiautomatic firearm and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Tyrece Jefferson, 32, showed no reaction when the verdict was announced in Fresno County Superior Court. He faces life in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 14.
Afterward, prosecutor Ron Wells said he plans to nominate Fidel Rodriguez for a heroism award for stopping the Nov. 26 noontime hold-up by fighting with Jefferson until police arrived.
“He’s an incredibly brave individual,” Wells said.
Police say Jefferson, a Diamond Crip gang member, was on parole when he donned a black ski mask and pointed a chrome handgun at the clerk in the Dollar Tree on Tulare Avenue at First Street.
“Put the money in the bag,” Jefferson said, according the testimony of the clerk, Shenequa Ward.
“I was scared,” Ward told the jury.
I was thinking, ‘You’re going to rob someone right in front of my baby?’
Fidel Rodriguez, the customer who stopped the robbery
Before she got the money from the till, Ward said she noticed a customer in the checkout line handing his 5-month-old child to his wife. The customer then started fighting with Jefferson inside the store.
“As a father, I took it personal,” Rodriguez said, explaining to the jury why he fought with Jefferson. “I was thinking, ‘You’re going to rob someone right in front of my baby?’ ”
“At that point, all I cared about was my baby and my wife,” he said.
Rodriguez said he and Jefferson traded punches in the store and in the parking lot. At one point, the gun was pointed at him, Rodriguez said. The gun also discharged, but no one was struck by the bullet.
Rodriguez testified that he managed to get the gun away from Jefferson. When police arrived, Rodriguez and store employee Onesimo “Nemo” Botello were holding Jefferson down on the ground in the parking lot. Police then took Jefferson into custody.
He’s an incredibly brave individual.
Fresno prosecutor Ron Wells, on Fidel Rodriguez
During the trial, Jefferson contended that he was not guilty by reason of insanity.
On Tuesday, Fresno psychiatrist Dr. Howard Terrell testified that Jefferson told him that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, suffered from bouts of anxiety and depression, and had thoughts of suicide. Terrell also testified that Jefferson told him that his mother was an alcoholic and drug addict when she died in the late 1990s.
According to Terrell, Jefferson told him that he had quit the Diamond Crips and was homeless and needed money. Terrell testified that Jefferson confessed to trying to rob the Dollar Tree with a BB gun that looked like a real gun. Terrell said Jefferson told him that it was never his intent for anyone to get hurt, and that he was surprised when a customer attacked him.
In his opinion, Terrell said Jefferson knew what he was doing when he held up the Dollar Tree. And Wells said Jefferson had a real gun when he walked into Dollar Tree to commit a robbery.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the jury that convicted Jefferson ruled that he was legally sane when he committed the crime.
After the verdict, Judge Arlan Harrell ordered Jefferson to be held without bail until he is sentenced.