Two men have taken plea deals in Fresno County Superior Court in connection with killing a convenience store clerk and beating another with a pipe during an attempted robbery four years ago – a violent crime that was captured by a store video camera.
Christopher Roberts Jr., 25, and Dwayne Dodson, 39, pleaded guilty this week to voluntary manslaughter. Dodson also admitted that he used a gun to shoot clerk Kashmir Singh Manes, 45, inside the Super 1 convenience store at Tulare and Seventh streets in Fresno on Aug. 23, 2012. Roberts also pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon in the beating of clerk Kulvinder Singh, who suffered serious head injuries that required 22 stitches.
The plea deal came after a jury in July deliberated 11 days and voted 7-5 to find Roberts not guilty of murder, assault with a deadly weapon and attempted robbery after hearing four months of evidence. Jurors voted 9-3 to find Dodson guilty of the charges.
Because the jury’s vote was not unanimous, Superior Court Judge Denise L. Whitehead declared a mistrial, giving prosecutors another shot at trying Roberts and Dodson.
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This was a fair resolution.
Fresno defense attorney Margarita Martinez-Baly
The two defendants chose to settle the case because if they had been convicted of the murder charges, they would have faced life in prison, said Fresno attorney Margarita Martinez-Baly, who defended Roberts.
“This was a fair resolution,” said Martinez-Baly, noting that prosecutors initially considered seeking the death penalty against the two men. During the trial, however, prosecutors sought life in prison without parole for the pair.
Roberts and Dodson, who have been in the Fresno County Jail since the killing, will be sentenced Oct. 4. Under the plea agreement, Roberts will be sentenced to nine years in prison and Dodson will be sentenced to 17 years.
A store video surveillance camera captured the killing and bloody crime scene, but the robbers’ faces were concealed.
Testimony in the trial revealed that Roberts and Dodson were seen together about 50 minutes before they entered the store.
The case was difficult to prosecute because the robbers’ faces were concealed in a video captured by a store surveillance camera. And because Roberts and Dodson chose not to testify, jurors were not allowed to hear about the defendants’ previous criminal history, which included a Roberts’ conviction of using a disguise during a robbery.
In addition, Singh was beaten so badly, jurors said after the trial that they thought it was odd that there was no blood on Roberts’ clothing or in his car when he was pulled over about 30 minutes after the killing. Dodson was arrested about a week later.
The video shows two robbers with gloves entering the store shortly before 11 p.m.
One of them wore a baseball cap, a dark stocking cap and goggles and waved a handgun near the counter while the second man, with a white T-shirt over his head, moved in and out of the video frames.
After Manes was shot once, the video shows the robbers bumping into each other as they leave the store without taking any loot. The video then shows Manes lying mortally wounded on the floor behind the cash register while a bloody Singh calls 911.