HOUSTON (CN) – The family of one Houston man convicted Friday for his purported role in the fatal shooting of an armored-car courier and theft of $120,000 said the conviction is unfair because it’s based solely on circumstantial evidence.
Prosecutors claim that from his sniper’s nest in the back of a Toyota 4Runner, Redrick Jevon Batiste put the barrel of his scope-mounted rifle through a hole he’d cut in the vehicle and shot Loomis armored-car courier David Guzman across a traffic-heavy Houston street in August 2016 as Guzman exited the vehicle to refill an ATM with cash.
During a nine-day trial at the Houston federal courthouse, prosecutors said Nelson Alexander Polk, 40, drove the getaway car, a blue Toyota sedan, up to Guzman and a masked black man jumped out and grabbed the cash bag.
Polk is facing decades in prison after the jury found him guilty Friday on all four charges against him, the most serious of which was aiding and abetting use of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, causing the death of a person.
Houston police got a tip that put them on Batiste’s trail and learned from a wiretap the FBI put on Batiste’s phone that he was planning another armored-car heist at an Amegy Bank in north Houston for December 2016.
In a cat-and-mouse game that played out like the plot of a detective novel, prosecutors said Batiste put a GPS tracking device on a Jeep Cherokee he had rented, and swapped its key out with a fake key, so he could steal it and use it for the December heist.
Before Batiste stole the Jeep, police installed cameras and their own GPS tracker in the vehicle.
The investigation came to a dramatic end on Dec. 7, 2016, when SWAT officers surrounded Batiste, who was sitting in the Jeep in an apartment complex near Amegy Bank.
The SWAT team confronted Batiste as he stared through the scope of an assault rifle, waiting to pick off the armored-car guard when they got out to fill an ATM behind the bank with cash, prosecutors said.
Batiste, 37 traded gunfire with officers and was shot in the chest and leg.
As Batiste fell dead, Houston police drove the armored car into an SUV in which Polk was in the driver’s seat.
Prosecutors said Polk was waiting for Batiste to shoot the guard so he could he drive up and his passenger, Trayvees Duncan-Bush, 31, could leap out and snatch the cash bag.
Polk and Duncan-Bush jumped out of the SUV and fled but were quickly apprehended.
Also arrested in the area were Polk’s uncle Marc Anthony Hill, 48, and John Edward Scott, 43, whom prosecutors say were serving as lookout men.
Bennie Charles Phillips, 31, was also charged with recruiting Duncan-Bush to be the pickup man.
Duncan-Bush pleaded guilty in September 2018 and testified against the other men.
Defense attorneys claimed Batiste had manipulated their clients and gave them only limited information about the December plot, not telling them he planned to shoot a guard dead.
But the seven-woman, five-man jury found the men guilty on all counts Friday afternoon after eight hours of deliberations.
All four defendants were convicted of two charges for helping with the foiled December 2016 heist, while Hill and Polk were convicted of two additional charges for their alleged involvement in the August 2016 murder and robbery of Guzman.
Polk’s sister-in-law Britney Polk told Courthouse News she does not think he nor any of his co-defendants received a fair trial.
“There was no evidence linking them to the robbery in August at all! Prosecutors took the December incident as the easy way out. They don’t really care who the real killer of Guzman is anyway,” she said in a statement for the Polk family.
She said the only evidence linking Hill and Polk to the scene of the August heist was cell-tower data that prosecutors said showed the two men were in the area.
She added, “Benny Phillips’ parole officer came to testify on the stand that he was with her at the time of the attempted December robbery. Benny Phillips was nowhere near the scene. Neither was John Scott!”
She said a burner phone police claimed they had found in Hill’s car that purportedly contained incriminating text messages he exchanged with Batiste is suspicious because investigators searched the vehicle three times and did not find it.
“But somehow three weeks later once the lead investigator goes out to search it (alone) a mysterious burner phone ends up in the car,” Britney Polk said. (Parentheses in original.)
U.S. District Judge David Hittner presided over the trial and will hand down the men’s sentences at yet-to-be-scheduled hearings. Phillips and Scott are facing mandatory- minimum sentences of a decade in federal prison, while the mandatory sentence for Hill and Polk is 20 years.