March 25, 2014

3 men bound over for trial in robbery at Wichita apartments

The crime victims both wore handcuffs as they were brought to court Tuesday to testify at a preliminary hearing.

The crime victims both wore handcuffs as they were brought to court Tuesday to testify at a preliminary hearing.

One of them, Joshua Cope, 30, invoked his Fifth Amendment right and didn’t testify against the men police say beat and robbed him on Aug. 18 at a south Wichita apartment complex.

The other, Mariah Bankston, 19, testified that Cope was slashed with a knife and could barely walk after the robbers were through with him.

“He was bloody everywhere,” she said. “I saw a ton of blood.”

Bankston testified that the man with the knife then threatened her.

“He told me to get back ... or you’re next.”

At the end of the hearing, District Judge Christopher Magana bound three of the men – Brandon Brown, 21, Shane A. Pittman, 27, and Alex R. Perez, 27 – over for trial on charges of aggravated robbery. A preliminary hearing for the fourth suspect – Andy Duarte, 28 – was continued after it was determined that his lawyer had a conflict in the case.

Wichita police said at the time that the robbery occurred on the afternoon of Aug. 18, 2013, when a man and woman drove to the Village Park at Kingsborough apartments at 2720 S. Seneca to buy $3,000 worth of hydroponically grown marijuana.

Bankston and Cope were scheduled to testify at the preliminary hearing two weeks ago, but they didn’t show up for court and material witness warrants were issued their arrest. Both were booked on $75,000 bond on March 14. Cope faced additional charges after officers said they found in his possession 5 pounds of marijuana and 8 grams of meth.

After Cope decided he would not be testifying on Tuesday, prosecutors were left with Bankston as their only civilian witness.

She testified that on the day of the robbery, Cope made a deal with someone named “Lumpy” – later identified as Pittman – to pick something up at the apartment complex on South Seneca. She said in court she didn’t know what Cope was going to pick up that day, but a police detective said she told him it was marijuana.

Bankston said Cope told her to wait in the car before going inside, but she said she got out when Cope started screaming. She said she was immediately attacked by Brown, who knocked her down and ran away. She said she recognized him from their days at South High School. Bankston said she was “almost positive” that a man standing outside that day was Pittman.

Prosecutor Justen Phelps conceded that without the testimony of the main crime victim, the case was light.

“I realize the evidence is somewhat indirect and somewhat circumstantial,” he said.

But he said the evidence, when taken in the light most favorable to the state, showed there was probable cause to believe the defendants committed the crime.

“There is no evidence that this was a random robbery,” he said.

Magana agreed, and set a May 5 jury trial date for Perez, who remains in custody. June 12 trial dates were set for Brown and Pittman, who are free on bond.

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