Strunio’s restaurant is an Italian restaurant that has been a local favorite for about the last thirty years. It had the best pizza in the town, and I used to practically live there when I was in college. In the days since my college years in the early 2000s, the neighborhood around Sturnio’s had gotten a lot rougher and had become the site for several auto burglaries, thefts, and armed robberies.
In December of 2009, Michael Bartlett and his girlfriend, Jennifer Johnson, went to dinner at Sturnio’s and, after a few pitchers of beer and some deep dish pizza, left the restaurant and headed out to the parking lot to go home. As they approached their car, two young men, Jeremy Pinkston and Alvin Brown, came from behind the trash dumpster and held them up:
Alvin Brown: “Give me the fucking money!”
Michael Bartlett: “ She has all the money. I don’t have anything!”
Jennifer Johnson: “What the hell Michael?!”
As Michael is trying to persuade the robbers that Jennifer has all the money, he chucks his keys at her and takes off running. After Michael runs away, one of the robbers smacks Jennifer in the face with his pistol and takes her wallet. The apple dumpling gang takes off running towards a gas station, located less than a half of a mile from where the armed robbery occurred and hid behind the store. They were apprehended by police officers less than thirty minutes after the robbery happened and had Jennifer’s credit cards, driver’s license and wallet in their possession.
Police officers transported Brown and Pinkston to the police department headquarters, where Brown was the first one to talk when interviewed by a detective:
Detective: “So Mr. Brown tell me what happened?”
Brown: “We was walking down the street, and we were talking about how we both needed money and decided to hit a lick, so we robbed them. You know what it is, I’m guilty.”
Detective: “Ok well um I got what I needed….. I think this interview is over.”
For those of you that do not know street lingo, let me translate for you. “hitting a lick” is street for “I am going to rob someone.” Brown’s defense of “I’m guilty” was not quite as well thought out as he had hoped, as he eventually was sentenced to twenty years to serve for this botched robbery plan, but who ever said these guys were John Dillinger.
So, as anticipated, less than a year later Brown entered a guilty plea to robbing Jennifer and Michael. When a defendant enters a guilty plea in the circuit court, the law allows the victim of the crime to speak directly to the court about what type of sentence that they feel the defendant should receive. Sometimes victims choose to speak, or sometimes they say nothing at all. Jennifer and her family had something to say and said it they did:
The Court: “Does the victim wish to speak?”
Prosecutor: “Yes your honor.”
The Court: “Ok they may do so now.”
Prosecutor: “The first person that would like to speak is Ms. Johnson’s mother.”
Mrs. Johnson: “Your honor my daughter has been severely traumatized by this incident. She had to quit her job in town and move back home with us in Cuckoos Nest. She can’t eat anymore and doesn’t enjoy the taste of food. She used to enjoy watching movies, but the sight of the remote control frightens her, it reminds her of that gun that Mr. Brown wielded when he hit her. She has always enjoyed the company of her cat, Biggles, but now the cat doesn’t look at her in the same way. Biggles doesn’t look at Jennifer the way he once did with admiration for the woman she had become.”
What in the fuck?! The cat doesn’t look at her in the same way? How in the hell does she know this? Does she have a medium that communicates with her cat? I understand that getting robbed is a traumatic incident but do we have to bring the family pet into this?
If the comment about the cat’s admiration wasn’t enough, the “she doesn’t enjoy the taste of food anymore” statement made me laugh out loud in the courtroom. Jennifer weighed, at least, two hundred pounds, if she didn’t enjoy the taste of food, then she was swallowing that shit whole. Like shotgunning a beer. I wasn’t shocked that Michael chucked his keys at her and ran. His choices were A) defend this crazy fat chick’s honor and get zapped over it, or B) run like hell. Smart move Michael, smart move.
Then, of course, the victim herself chose to speak, and her oratory skills rivaled that of her mother:
The Court: “Would the victim like to speak?”
Prosecutor: “I believe so your honor.”
Jennifer: “Your honor, this event has severely crippled my soul. The one positive thing about this horrific incident was that I learned that I am a much stronger person than I thought that I would be. When Mr. Brown robbed me, I said to myself “I am not going to be a victim!” When he demanded my car keys from me, I threw them in the bushes. To hell with him I thought. When life hands me lemons, I go ahead a make lemon meringue pie.”
The Court: “Ok thank you Ms. Johnson. Does Mr. Brown have anything to say on his behalf?”
Public Defender: “He would like to apologize to the victims.”
The Court: “Ok he may address them and the Court now.”
Brown: “Well Judge I am sorry about all this business. I meant to rob her, but I sure didn’t mean to hit her. She charged me and I had to smack that lady in the face. I had to defend myself, your honor.”
The Court: “You are a damn liar Mr. Brown. Are you seriously telling this Court that Ms. Johnson attacked you?!”
Brown: “Um yea I am.”
The Court: “That’s outrageous sir!”
Jennifer: “Your honor he speaks the truth. I charged him because I was not going be a victim!”
The Court: “Well um ok then. Well, Mr. Brown, you put her in that position, and she had no choice but to attack you. I will grant you some leniency and sentence you to 20 years to serve instead of the 25 years that I was going to give you. Good luck to you sir.”
That was the end of Alvin Brown’s short-lived criminal career. I bet you are wondering “what about Michael Bartlett?” Michael never made it to the plea hearing because Jennifer’s father had told him that he was going kill him if he ever saw him again. I guess he didn’t appreciate the fact that Michael tried to save himself and leave his daughter out in the cold. After watching this plea hearing, I didn’t blame Michael one bit. Crazy people are not worth dying over, whether they be criminals or lemon pie making girlfriends.