Earlier this year, a man from Wilkinsburg was convicted for robbing three Family Dollar stores at gunpoint. An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge, Donna Jo McDaniel, has sentenced him to at least 20 years in prison.
James Battle, 47, received a sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison. In February, a jury convicted him of two counts of robbery and one count of conspiracy.
Over a period of six days in July 2016, Battle pointed a gun at cashiers, demanding money. He ordered customers in the stores to the ground. Then, after taking the cash and stealing cigarettes, ordered the cashiers to the ground, as well. The stores involved were located on Penn Avenue, 56th Street in Lawrenceville, and Spring Garden Avenue.
Battle was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals in Clermont, Florida in August 2016. He had been staying at the home of a relative. Initially, he had hidden in a bathroom, but eventually was taken into custody and extradited back to Pittsburgh.
Police were assisted in their efforts to identify Battle by a woman who knew him after she saw surveillance photos that had been released. Battles had taken her car without her knowledge.
Battle has an arrest history that dates back to 2003. Court records indicate that he was arrested for aggravated assault, riot, and intimidating a witness or victim. In 2014, he was arrested for escape, tampering with or fabricating evidence, and possession of a firearm.
Undoubtedly, this long criminal history played a part in Battle’s conviction and sentence.
Robbery is a felony charge, and the fact that Battle used a gun and ordered people to lie on the ground is probably what made his sentence higher. One of the defenses that can be used in a robbery case is that the victim was not in fear of being injured or killed. Obviously, if a man is waving a gun around, a victim is definitely feeling fear for his life.
Another possible defense would have been that no theft was committed, so there was no robbery. However, with robbery being defined as theft by force, the use of a gun negated that, as well. Battle’s actions made his defense very difficult, I’m sure.
All that being said, Battle’s attorney could have used the argument that no injury actually occurred. Certainly, none were reported in the media, and that’s not something they would have kept quiet about.
Regardless, the man has been convicted by a jury and sentenced. Twenty years in prison when you are already in your late 40’s is a daunting prospect. Unless he gets out early, is paroled or what have you, he’ll be an old man when his sentence has been served. And, if he has to serve the full 40 years, he may well die in prison. I wonder if he still thinks it was worth it to rob three stores at gunpoint.
Mr. Battle can, of course, appeal. If he’s going to do this, he must do so as soon as possible. He could have as few as ten days from today to do so. The guidelines for appealing a sentence are strict.
For any appeal to be successful, there must be strong reasons. For example, there may have been new evidence that emerged that could exonerate the offender. Or, there may have been a change in Pennsylvania laws that would have affected his outcome. He might have been sentenced outside the bounds of the law. Or, he might have felt that his attorney did not do his job properly. This last is called Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and requires the defendant and his new attorney to prove that his outcome would have been different if his attorney had acted differently.
None of us know why Mr. Battle chose to rob those stores, but his story can be a lesson to all of us to look at ideas from all angles before we make choices.