Sonic robbery suspects, plea, found guilty

Published 2:10 pm Friday, January 29, 2010

Resolution on the case involving two suspects involved in two Pearl River County Sonic robberies is close at hand.

The first of the robberies took place late in 2008. That robbery took place at the Picayune Sonic the day before Thanksgiving and the second robbery took place at the Sonic in Poplarville on Jan. 2, 2009.

While one of the two suspects, Palanstea Williams, pleaded guilty to two counts of armed robbery, the other suspect, Jay Magee, was found guilty of armed robbery and kidnapping in the Poplarville incident during a trial held this week. Magee was 20 years-old and Williams was 19 years-old at the time of their arrest. Both were from Franklinton, La.

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Assistant District Attorney Monya Creel Bryan said court hearings on charges concerning the Picayune incident are still pending.

In both incidents the method of operation was the same; they waited until an employee took out the trash, then used that employee to gain entrance to the restaurant after it had closed. They then took most of the employees and locked them in a cooler, leading to charges of kidnapping.

Poplarville Police reported shortly after the incident that both Magee and Williams were also linked to several previous Sonic robberies in Louisiana.

It was during the Poplarville incident that their crime spree came to an end. Their arrest involved the keen eye of a resident taking part in a neighborhood watch.

On the night of Jan. 2, the two suspects pulled up to a residential area in Poplarville, parked the truck they were riding in and headed out on foot towards the restaurant.

Bryan said that concerned citizen who lived in the area where the suspects parked the truck saw the two men pull up that night at about 10 p.m., get out of the vehicle and head into the woods. Since the situation looked suspicious, the citizen called the Poplarville Police Department.

An officer responded and found the truck unlocked with the keys still inside. The officer took the keys with him, locked the truck and asked the concerned citizen that if he saw the owners of the truck return and ask about their vehicle, to call him and he would return with the keys.

However, the owner of the vehicle, Magee, and his accomplice, Williams, were involved in the armed robbery of the Sonic. When Magee and Williams returned they found a locked truck with no keys. That same citizen later called the station to report that the two men had returned, and were quite upset to find the truck was locked.

Bryan said testimony and evidence showed that when Magee and Williams returned, they tried to pry the sliding rear window of the truck open. While they were unable to gain entry to the truck, they did get the window open enough to put a money bag and a gun in the truck. That evidence was abandoned when they heard officers heading to Sonic after the robbery was reported.

Magee and Williams would later attempt to flee the scene once they heard the police sirens. Magee ran into the nearby woods and took off all his clothes. Bryan said he was found about an hour later by Poplarville Police officers, wearing only boxer shorts and tennis shoes. Williams was found at about 5:30 the next morning by a Pearl River County Sheriff deputy riding a stolen bicycle along U.S. 11.

In the cash bag found in the truck was a receipt signed by a Sonic employee, evidence that would later help bring about a guilty verdict from the jury against Magee. Bryan said the best evidence the state had against the two suspects included a ski mask worn by Magee and a bandanna worn by Williams that were found in the woods. Both articles were later tested for DNA and found to have been previously worn by the suspects.

“It was a very good case for the state, in my opinion,” Bryan said.

Bryan said the teamwork between all three county law enforcement agencies and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation was also key to the case.

Sentencing for Magee will be in February, while Williams will face Circuit Court Judge R.I. Pritchard on Friday morning for sentencing.