Melvin E. Jackson, 34, entered an Alford plea in Richmond County Superior Court to the reduced charge of robbery. An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt, but rather the acknowledgment of the sufficiency of evidence needed for a conviction.
Assistant District Attorney Rex Myers said the plea agreement benefited the prosecution because the case against Jackson was not very strong.
Henry Colley, the owner of Bistro 491, was in his office Dec. 20, after closing when a masked man armed with a handgun entered the office and demanded money. The man struck Colley in the head with the gun and threatened to kill Colley if he refused to open the restaurant’s safe, according to earlier reports in The Augusta Chronicle.
Colley thought he recognized the voice of the gunman and gave sheriff investigators the names of two possible suspects, one of whom was Jackson, Myers told the judge Wednesday. Colley’s granddaughter, who was outside the restaurant during the robbery, saw the suspected assailant without a mask in the parking lot at Highland Avenue and Wheeler Road.
Both initially failed to identify Jackson in a photo lineup, Myers said. But after a new photograph of Jackson – one showing him clean-shaven and much smaller because of weight loss – was shown to the granddaughter, she identified Jackson as the man she saw in the parking lot.
Jackson maintains his innocence, said his attorney, Maureen Floyd. Jackson had no prior criminal record, and until a near fatal illness in November, he had worked in some of the area’s top restaurants, including Bistro 491, Floyd said.
The risk of a trial and a conviction was too high considering the possibility of a sentence of life in prison, she said.
Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet accepted the plea negotiation and sentenced Jackson to five years probation under the First Offender Act. Jackson must pay a $500 fine and $828 in restitution.