By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A Mercer County jury has found a McDowell County woman guilty Wednesday of conspiracy to commit robbery and robbery in the first degree.
Jurors deliberated for 37 minutes before finding Jessica Persianni Roberts, 40, of Crumpler guilty on both charges, said Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler.
Roberts robbed the Pop Shop near Bramwell on Aug. 22, 2011 with her husband, the late David Roberts. During the robbery, David Roberts was shot several times by the boyfriend of a store employee. He later died while in route to Bluefield Regional Medical Center.
After the verdict was rendered, Roberts was released on bond pending a motion for a new trial, Sitler said. She is facing an indeterminate sentence of one to five years for conspiracy to commit robbery and minimum of 10 years for robbery in the first degree.
“There is no maximum,” Sitler said. “It could be 10 years up to life.”
Jessica Roberts remains free on bond pending a motion for a new trial, Sitler said.
During closing arguments, Sitler told jurors the robbery was not a simple incident, and argued Jessica Roberts “at the very least” aided and abetted first-degree robbery.
Jessica Roberts visited the Pop Shop the day before the robbery and asked if “anything ever happened” at the store, the clerk, Candance Flanagan, testified during the trial.
The following day the couple drove to the store with plans to rob it because they were out of money and drugs, Sitler stated.
The couple lived in McDowell County, but they approached the Pop Shop from Bramwell so they would not be seen by anyone in the store, Sitler said. The sequence of events was captured on a security video.
“In the video, they’re sneaking up on the store from Bramwell,” he said. “It was a deliberate approach to evade being seen. That’s the only reasonable explanation.”
Jessica Roberts waited in the car – borrowed from her father – about 100 yards from the store while her husband walked to it. He was armed with a shotgun, Sitler said. He held the weapon up for the jury to see.
“Jessica Roberts denied seeing a shotgun,” Sitler told the jurors. “It’s like a cannon. It’s hard to conceal.” She later told investigators she had seen her husband put it in the car.
Sitler said the prosecution did not dispute that David Roberts had abused Jessica Roberts on previous occasions. Incidents were reported in 2005 and 2006, five years before the Pop Shop robbery.
Jessica Roberts drove to the store after her husband, who had been shot, stumbled through the front doors. A pickup truck blocked her view, so she thought that somebody else – not David Roberts – had been shot, Sitler said. He played the security video again for the jury.
In the video, David Roberts is seen stumbling from the store and collapsing in the parking lot. Jessica Roberts drove up, picked up something near her husband and the store’s front door, and drove away approximately a minute later. Approximately $700 was missing from the store.
“She was present at the scene, in an excellent place to be a lookout,” Sitler said.
Jessica Roberts approached the store after shots were fired, expecting to learn that her husband had shot another person. Drug abuse and physical abuse from her husband did not explain her actions, he said.
“The fact she was a drug zombie at this point does not excuse her actions. The fact her husband hit her in 2005 does not excuse her actions,” Sitler said.
Attorney Dave Kelley, who represented Jessica Roberts, told jurors that she could not be judged “in a reasonable way.” She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and experienced years of physical abuse and intimidation.
Jessica Roberts had no prior intent to participate in a robbery, he said.
“She may have complied with his (David Roberts’s) demands to escape physical abuse,” Kelley said, adding later, “This lady knew what was going to happen if she didn’t go along.”
The trial was conducted by Judge William Sadler.
Jessica Roberts was initially charged with first-degree murder. This charge was dropped after the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued a ruling Nov. 8, 2012 about a similar case in Hancock County. The justices ruled that a participant in a crime could not be charged with murder if another participant died while it was being committed.
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org