By Will Johnson
HOUSTON COUNTY – On Thursday, June 8, a Houston County jury found Demetrius Gerald Wheeler, 27, guilty of aggravated robbery for his role in robbing the Lovelady State Bank on Dec. 17, 2015.
It took the five man – seven woman jury less than 10 minutes to render a guilty verdict in the case. Wheeler elected to have the judge assess punishment and sentencing has been set for Aug. 11.
The first suspect to be tried in the case was Alonso Donell Irving. Irving received a sentence of 45 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division.
Wheeler’s trial was held in the 3rd District Court with District Judge Mark Calhoon presiding. The legal proceedings began on Tuesday morning, June 6, with jury selection with the evidentiary portion of the trial beginning that same afternoon.
d retained Houston-based attorney Arthur Washington to assist in his defense while the prosecution was led by Houston County District Attorney Donna Kaspar.
The first day of testimony saw the DA’s office present evidence from forensic scientists Jessica Lake and Jessica Ehman – both with the Texas Department of Public Safety. The two scientists testified about the processes used to collect DNA from the recovered evidence.
The jury also heard testimony from Texas Rangers Steven Jeter and Valentin Ceniceros pertaining to the evidence chain of custody and the reliability of DNA evidence gathered during the investigation.
Once the forensics testimony, along with the testimony from the two Texas Rangers concluded, the D.A. called several of the Lovelady State Bank employees – present at the time of the robbery – to the witness stand to recount what transpired on the morning of Dec. 17, 2015.
As the trial moved from Wednesday to Thursday, Kaspar called Allus Hubbard to the witness stand. Hubbard had been apprehended by law enforcement officials in Trinity shortly after the robbery and had previously admitted he was one of the three men who robbed the bank.
has a plea bargain under consideration, testified on the morning of Dec. 17, 2015, he received a text from Irving asking him to “Come outside and ride with him.”
Hubbard said he got into a dark-colored Hyundai sedan and drove to Trinity where he and Irving met up with Ryan Scott and Demetrius Wheeler.
In his testimony, Hubbard indicated Irving told him the purpo
se of the trip to Trinity was to rob a drug dealer, but stressed the plans changed after he and Irving met with Scott and Wheeler.
He explained Wheeler was driving a red Dodge Dart and after meeting the two accomplices, Scott entered the Hyundai. Hubbard further testified Wheeler drove the Dodge to a location just outside of Lovelady while he, Irving and Scott headed towards the bank.
After committing the bank robbery, the three felons drove the Hyundai to the predetermined meeting place where Wheeler was waiting in the Dodge and sped towards Trinity while being pursued by a bank employee and law enforcement.
As he continued his testimony, Hubbard said he collapsed when the robbers abandoned the car in Trinity and fled on foot. His next memory was of waking up in the hospital where Ranger Jeter attempted to get a statement.
Hubbard told the jury he tried to distance himself from the robbery by lying to Jeter the first time
they talked. During the course of a second interview with Jeter, Irving’s name came up and in a third interview, Hubbard recounted the entire story to the Ranger and implicated Wheeler as the getaway driver.
In addition to Hubbard’s testimony, DNA from Wheeler was found on a water bottle, along with a washrag, found in the vehicle abandoned by the three perpetrators.
Furthermore, an old girlfriend of Wheeler, testified the red Dodge was her car but swore under oath Wheeler was driving it the day of the robbery.
The state rested its case at 10:55 a.m. on Thursday, June 8.
Wheeler’s attorney, Arthur Washington did not call any witnesses for the defense but argued during his closing Wheeler was a mere victim of circumstances. He implied his client was also under the impression the trio who robbed the bank were actually going to rob a drug dealer.
Following Kaspar’s closing argument, Judge Calhoon read the formal charges against Wheeler and gave the jury instructions before they began to deliberate.
Once the judge had provided the jury instructions, the trial was recessed for lunch. The jurors returned from lunch at 12:45 p.m. and immediately retired into the jury room to begin deliberations. At 12:55 p.m., the co
urt bailiff was handed a note indicating the jury had reached a verdict.
When the jurors emerged from behind closed doors, Calhoon read the verdict which stated the jury had found Wheeler guilty on the charge of aggravated robbery, a first degree felony.
“I am very happy with the verdict. I’m glad that Ranger Jeter and all the other deputies who were involved were able to gather all the evidence they did gather and to see how the lab results matched what Allus Hubbard told them. It was a good job on the part of law enforcement and made it easier for the jury to see what really happened,” Kaspar said after the trial.
Kaspar added the fourth person involved in the robbery, Ryan Scott, was being held in the Harris County Jail on charges of capital murder. She explained because the charge of capital murder carries a punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole or death by lethal injection, if Scott is found guilty on the capital murder charges, he would not be tried in Houston County. However, if he is found not guilty, Kaspar said he would be extradited to Houston County to stand trial for the bank robbery.
Hubbard has been offered a plea bargain of 20 years in prison but the deal has not yet been formalized.
Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.