An Augusta man who left college after 9/11 to join the Army and served two tours in Afghanistan before returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder, pleaded guilty Thursday to armed robbery.
Calvin Thomas Jr., 32, apologized to his victims in Richmond County Superior Court. It wasn’t until he was medicated for PTSD and schizoaffective disorder that he realized how wrong his actions had been, he told the court. He said he has taken full responsibility since his arrest last fall and told investigators his younger brother – who was arrested on the same charges – is innocent.
Thomas and his brother were targeted by Richmond County sheriff’s investigators who had spotted the pattern of armed robberies of people cashing checks at the Wal-Mart in south Augusta, Assistant District Attorney Adam D. Land told the judge Thursday.
Working the main lead they had – a description of the van the assailant used – the detectives searched vehicle registration data to find possible matches and narrowed their search to the area they believed most likely to lead to a suspect. They zeroed in on the van that Thomas’ mother owns, Land said.
Between Sept. 19 and Oct. 26, Thomas went to the Wal-Mart and waited for potential victims cashing checks.
He then had his brother follow the people, the prosecutor said. Thomas wore a bandana over his face and used a BB gun that looked real to pull off the holdups, Land said.
In a plea negotiation, Thomas agreed to plead guilty to two counts of armed robbery and two weapon violations in exchange for the prosecutor’s sentence recommendation of 15 to 20 years in prison.
Assistant Public Defender Penelope Donkar told the judge that Thomas graduated from Lucy C. Laney High School and had three years of college before joining the Army in 2002.
Thomas had no previous felony records, Donkar said, and she asked the judge to take his military service into account and sentence him at the low end of the sentencing agreement.
Judge J. Wade Padgett said Thomas did deserve appreciation for his service. The soft-spoken, polite man in court, however, wasn’t the person his victims saw when they were faced with an armed man, Padgett said.
Padgett sentenced Thomas to 20 years in prison, followed by five years on probation. He will have to serve a minimum of 10 years before parole is possible.
His brother, Kelvin Thomas, 24, is in jail awaiting trial on armed robbery and weapon charges.