A Delaware man accused of armed robbery in Laurel was tried in absentia and issued an arrest warrant Tuesday when he didn’t appear before Jones County Circuit Court.
Judge Dal Williamson said Devonte Joshua Henry, 25, knew about his day in court and knew that it would be at South Central Place, which has been used as a de facto courthouse so jurors can socially distance due to COVID-19. Public defender Michael Mitchell told Williamson that he and Henry had gone over the trial, even the street address, that week. The jury, made up of five black women, two black men, three white women and two white men, deliberated for 24 minutes before finding Henry guilty.
The defendant will be sentenced when he’s arrested and brought back before the court, Williamson said.
“He’s been here this week, but he just didn’t show up,” the judge said. “That leads me to believe he absconded. We’re issuing an arrest warrant and putting it on the (national crime database). His attorney said he didn’t understand why he wasn’t here.”
Williamson told bailiffs to watch the front entrance in case Henry showed up, but he never did. The trial went forward because there was sufficient evidence that Henry knew he was supposed to be there, Williamson said.
Henry was initially arrested Dec. 26, 2019, when a woman accused him of armed robbery on South 13th Avenue near South Central Regional Medical Center, said Laurel police investigator Josh Freeman, who was called as a witness in the case.
A woman was walking on that road when the defendant put a gun to her back and demanded she give up her purse, testimony showed.
“The victim described a black man wearing a red hoodie,” Freeman said. “I headed north and found a black man wearing a red hoodie. He was extremely fidgety and sweaty. Before I say anything to him about the robbery, he says, ‘I don’t have a gun.’”
For Henry’s safety and his own, Freeman patted him down and found him in possession of a bag of marijuana and a syringe. Freeman located the witness, who identified Henry as the man who robbed her. Henry was booked and then posted bond. While in the police cruiser, Henry reportedy asked if he was being booked for attempted murder.
If it’s proved that a suspect held up their victim with a deadly weapon, regardless of whether it was loaded, the suspect faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Before his court date, Henry gave a very different story. He told police he’d been forced to rob the woman. When trying to buy marijuana from a group of unidentified people, he was thought to be an undercover cop because he’s well-spoken, he said. He said the group forced him to rob someone to prove he wasn’t a cop.
When a defendant is tried in absentia, the process is no different, Williamson said.
“It’s just that the trial proceeds without him being at the council table with his attorney,” he said.