Supposed victim of armed robbery now suspect

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By The Gillette News Record Via Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — A manager-in-training at Arby’s in Gillette who later was suspected of being an accomplice in an armed robbery there in November faces federal charges in the crime.
Aaron Michael Watson, 29, pleaded not guilty March 7 in federal court in Casper to interference with interstate commerce by method of robbery.
Charges in Campbell County of conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery were dropped as part of a plea deal in which he was transferred into federal custody, according to court documents.
Watson initially was considered a victim in the Nov. 12 armed robbery in which a black man wearing black clothing approached him as he took out the trash after Arby’s had closed for the night.
The man asked for a cigarette and to use Watson’s phone, according to court documents. Watson agreed, going back into Arby’s to retrieve his phone. When he returned, the man pointed a gun at him, pocketed Watson’s phone and put on a mask.
He demanded Watson take him to the night manager’s office. Watson entered the code to the door and was forced to his knees. The man hit the night manager in the head with his pistol and demanded he put money from the cash register trays in two white Walmart bags.
The man, believed to be Melvin Jefferson, who has not been arraigned, concealed about $360 in cash and gun in his waistband and left, according to court documents.
But police turned their attention to Watson, not as a victim, but as a suspect after seeing Walmart surveillance video and listening to phone calls that Jefferson made from jail before he was released shortly before the robbery.
Surveillance footage from Walmart showed Jefferson and Watson in the store Nov. 11, the day before the robbery, according to court documents. Jefferson took a black hooded coat from the clothing rack and they left the store with two white Walmart bags — the same bags believed to have been used to carry the cash from Arby’s the following day, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
In the phone calls, Jefferson made plans to go to Walmart to get black clothing. He also called Watson and said, “Hey, and soon as we get to (a friend’s) house then we can talk it up about that, so ah, we can try to make that happen like within the next couple days, you know what I mean?” the affidavit says.
Watson agreed to talk to Jefferson about “that,” according to the affidavit.
When shown a police lineup six days after the robbery, Watson initially did not identify Jefferson, but then said they had met in prison and had not seen each other in a year.
However, when shown some Walmart surveillance footage, he admitted that Jefferson is his “good friend” who he met in prison and was going to be the best man in his wedding, according to the affidavit.
After lying several times, Watson said he didn’t know about the robbery before it happened but implied he was covering up Jefferson’s involvement for fear of revenge. He also never denied his involvement in the robbery, but changed the subject when accused of his involvement, according to the affidavit.
Watson had been sentenced in September 2007 to consecutive prison sentences of four to eight years for buying or receiving stolen property and two to five years for child abuse in Albany County. Of the maximum 13 years, he served nine, being sent to the Volunteers of America community corrections facility in Gillette in January 2016 before being paroled from there in August 2016, according to the Department of Corrections.
Watson is being charged federally under the Hobbs Act, which prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce in any degree.
As part of the plea deal, Watson pleaded guilty to an earlier aggravated assault and battery. The charge had been changed slightly to reflect that it was a threat to inflict bodily injury, but not the intent. He was sentenced to the 202 days he had already served so that he could be taken into federal custody.
In the April 29 aggravated assault, two men, ages 18 and 19, went to confront Watson about threats made toward the 18-year-old man’s girlfriend. They knocked on the door two or three times, and Watson eventually answered the door with two knives in his hands. He chased the two younger men two-thirds of the way down the hallway, holding the knives out in front of him, according to an affidavit.
A neighbor who saw the incident screamed at him to put the knives down and he replied, “If they want to threaten my girlfriend, I’ll kill them,” according to the affidavit.
He told police the two men were trying to break down his door and he armed himself because he felt threatened.

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