Habitual offender gets life sentence

Published 11:51 pm Saturday, July 14, 2007

Armed robbery could be a quick way to get cash. But if you get caught it could be a quick way to land in jail for life. Especially if you’ve already got prior convictions.

Jael Fraise, 30, of Picayune, was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, both without the possibility of parole, by Judge Richard I. Pritchard Friday after a jury unanimously found him guilty of robbing the Pit Stop on U.S. 11 in Picayune last September.

Fraise, who did not testify on his own behalf, was previously convicted Sept. 13, 1996 for car jacking and kidnapping in New Jersey and was on probation in Pearl River County after paroling out of New Jersey.

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During a two day trial, which ended Friday, it was learned that the armed robbery occurred Sept. 25 at about 9 p.m. where a man with his entire body covered by a long sleeve dark colored shirt, gloves, and a suspected doo rag covering his face entered the Pit Stop on U.S. 11. Upon his entrance to the store he pointed an unknown type of gun in the face of the clerk, Glen Stevens, and left with about $425 in cash. Afterwards the suspect left the store with the money and escaped through a muddy parking lot in a dark colored car without a tag and lights across the back, days later described as a red Oldsmobile.

During the course of the investigation investigators identified Fraise as a suspect.

An hour after the robbery occurred Picayune Police officers found a red Oldsmobile without a tag at Arbor Gates Apartments but did not find Fraise. The car was warm to the touch and had signs of wet mud on it. A Pearl River County deputy, Rhonda Poche who lived in the same complex, had previously witnessed Fraise get things from the car but never saw him drive it. Fraise was later described to own a Ford F-150, which, along with Fraise, was not at the apartment complex when police found the Oldsmobile. Stevens was taken by investigators to two locations to identify two possible vehicles.

“The vehicle I saw (involved in the robbery) was the vehicle I saw at the apartment complex,” Grant Stevens said during his testimony.

Four days after the crime occurred Stevens told police he saw the suspect get into the passenger side of the vehicle before it sped off through the wet parking lot.

During Friday’s court proceedings an enhanced version of the store’s surveillance tape was played to the jury but little was revealed.

“We were unable to discern anything from the original video tape,” investigator Thomas Clark said.

The gun involved in the robbery was never recovered.

When investigators arrived at the apartment Fraise’s roommate, Thomas Tasker, was the only one at the apartment. Defense attorney David Brewer argued that Tasker could have fit the description of the robber since he is taller than Fraise and black in race. An initial description given by witnesses stated that the robber was a black man about 6 foot in height. However skin color features were concealed by the robber’s attire.

“This person who committed this heinous act was basically ninjaed out,” Defense attorney David Brewer said.

At the apartment, designated as the vehicle owner’s residence by Poche, investigators found a pair of gloves, a doo rag capable of covering facial features and about $260 in cash in denominational order in one room. In that same room a picture of Fraise with what appeared to be a gun on the bathroom counter was printing out of a computer printer, Clark said. Fraise’s friend Joe Blake testified that Fraise had a number of prop guns to use in his hobby, photography.

Blake said he worked with Fraise at Heritage Plastics, and that he estimated Fraise made about $800 a week with the overtime they were putting in. On top of that Fraise was working with his father in construction and had a sprouting photography business. With all that income Blake said Fraise would have no need to commit armed robbery. Blake said Fraise was on vacation when the robbery took place, but when cross referenced by the prosecution he said Fraise never came back to work after the robbery.

Fraise was found in Needles Calif., on Feb. 28. and brought back to Pearl River County for his hearing.

Fraise’s girlfriend, Astrid Hernandez, testified that she was with Fraise during the robbery at his apartment so he couldn’t have done it. However when Chief Investigator Holly Krantz took the stand she said she contacted Hernandez on her cell phone and asked Hernandez if she was with Fraise, her reply was no. Defense attorney David Brewer filed an objection to have that phone conversation removed from evidence since Hernandez’s phone number was acquired from Fraise’s phone records without a warrant.

Since the objection did not stick Assistant District Attorney Monya Creel Bryan then asked Krantz to cite the date Hernandez’s denied being in Fraise’s company. Krantz said she specifically asked Hernandez if it was the night of the robbery, and Hernandez had told Krantz she was not with Fraise the night of the robbery nor did she know where Fraise currently was. However in January of this year Fraise did make a visit to New Orleans where Hernandez admitted she had met with him. But Hernandez did not call to tell the police Fraise was in the area.

At the conclusion of the case the jury gave a unanimous decision of guilty of armed robbery, which under the jury instructions applied to both charges of Fraise being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and his performing the armed robbery. Before the sentence was announced Brewer mentioned that he would file opposition to the jury’s decision. In response Judge Pritchard informed Brewer that the defense would only be allowed to file opposition to one of the sentences. Pritchard handed out the sentence since the jury was not unanimous on the sentence of life in prison also laid out in the jury instructions. Pritchard sentenced Fraise to the two consecutive life sentences, both without the possibility of parole.

Cuffs were then placed on Fraise and with his head lowered Fraise picked up his records in front of him and was escorted out of the courtroom.