Defendant’s story ‘far-fetched’; convicted on grand larceny, destruction of property charges
Sometimes there are stories that seem to good to be real. For one Richmond man, his version of events on Nov. 6, 2017 led Judge B. Elliott Bondurant to deem them as a “fabrication” and resulted in a 23-month jail term.
Thomas Christopher Pryor, 32, of the 200 block of Accommodation Street, was found guilty on one count each of grand larceny and felony destruction of property during a contested trial Monday in New Kent Circuit Court. Two charges of misdemeanor violation of pretrial conditions were dismissed.
On the offense date around 11:20 p.m., Charles Ward, owner of Safe N Sound security systems, received an alert from his store’s security measures. Ward logged onto a device and saw two gentlemen on the premises entering a shed and company vehicles. The owner also noticed a Jeep Liberty that was not his and contacted New Kent Sheriff’s Office before proceeding to the premises. Security footage from multiple court angles showed the two individuals removing a toolbox from a shed and triggering a sensor light by the side door that led to an area containing recycled copper wire. At 11:33 p.m., the suspects moved the items towards the jeep before authorities showed up at 11:39 p.m., sending the two robbers running into the nearby woods.
Deputy Skyler Sibley, the first responding, testified about his findings after arriving to the crime scene.
“I found the Safe N Sound van had a shattered window,” the officer said. “As I walked around, I saw a black SUV parked between storage facilities on the nearby property.”
Sibley was later joined by Deputy Ethan Townsend. Both of the officers looked inside of the jeep. Among items discovered included a wallet with identification, a cell phone, power tools, and a blue bag with tools that included lead lamps, a pocket knife, screwdriver, a laptop bag with a computer, and pocket knife. Townsend said he touched the hood of the jeep which was warm, indicated that it had been recently on, and noticed condensation built on the outside of drinks located in the vehicle. A tracking dog was later brought to the scene and using the scent of a hoodie inside the jeep, sniffed around the premises. The dog led officers to a ski mask found in the woods, but no individuals were detected. More investigators arrived at the scene, obtaining security footage from Ward and taking still photos of the suspects. Ward was also able to identify the items inside of the jeep as his company’s property.
Dispersing from the facility around 2 a.m., Sibley elected to take Farmers Drive into Eltham. Turning onto Eltham Road (Route 33), the officer noticed a man trying to hitchhike near Curtis Contracting. When Sibley got closer, the man began to walk away from the officer’s car. The officer activated emergency lights and was able to get in front of the man. Upon detaining him, Sibley was able to identify the man as Pryor because of the information he saw on the discovered cell phone.
Other officers arrived at the scene before Pryor was taken to Henrico Jail East for an interview. There, Pryor told officers that he was the victim of a crime around the same time that night.
“I saw a woman broke down on the side of the road with her car and I stopped to help her,” Pryor said as part of audio tape played in the courtroom of his nearly two-hour interview. “That is when two men came up to me and robbed me.”
Pryor said that one of the men had a gun and shot it at him, sending him scurrying through the woods. The defendant said he eventually ended up one of the car dealerships in Eltham.
When New Kent Detective Donald Mehalko questioned Pryor and showed him a picture of the suspect, the defendant responded, “No way. That’s not me, that man has a mask on.”
However, Mehalko never mentioned to Pryor about discovering a mask.
“It’s hard to tell if the person in the picture had a mask on,” Mehalko testified in court. “The only thing I said I mentioned to him is that he had on similar clothing.”
New Kent Detective Brent Thomas said that after obtaining a warrant, he found search history on Pryor’s phone, uncovering Safe N Sound as an item recently looked up.
Defense attorney Scott Renick argued on behalf of his client, saying that there was a lot of circumstantial evidence in the case.
“My client’s story has never changed since he first told it to police,” he said, emphasizing the alleged robbers who stole the defendant’s vehicle. “Those two men could have been the ones who could have used Mr. Pryor’s phone to look up the information of Safe N Sound and robbed the place.”
But Commonwealth’s Attorney Linwood Gregory referenced the audio conversation Pryor had with authorities, pointing to inconsistent statements made by the defendant.
“Mr. Pryor said he was confused and didn’t know the area or where he was at,” Gregory said. “But later, he admitted to working on the solar farm.
“That solar farm is about a mile-and-a-half away from the Safe N Sound,” the Commonwealth’s Attorney continued. “His story is not credible.”
After the defense declined to present evidence, Bondurant agreed with the prosecution, pointing to additional information the defendant during his audio interview.
“His story is so farfetched that it doesn’t make sense,” the judge said. “Didn’t he tell his fiancée to take his keys to his car?”
Bondurant referenced Pryor’s comments that he drove the jeep, which was a rental vehicle, because he was afraid his car would break down. The defendant feared that if his car broke down, authorities who may come to assist him would discover that he didn’t have a license. Pryor supposedly gave the keys to his fiancée before leaving.
“Tell me if it makes sense that this guy who is afraid to get stopped on the interstate because he was afraid a trooper may run a background check on him if his car broke down would stop to help a woman whose car broke down on the road,” Bondurant added. “If someone broke down on the road, he would know that a state trooper or deputy would stop by to assist if they saw it.”
Pryor received a 10-year sentence with eight years, one month suspended on the grand larceny charge. All five years on the felony destruction of property charge were suspended, but the defendant must pay $1,488.44 in restitution.
In other circuit court cases:
–Alphonso Tyrell Johnson, 29, of the 600 block of George Lane, Tappahannock, accepted a plea deal to an amended charge of misdemeanor possession of a Schedule III drug (originally possession of a controlled substance).
In a summary of evidence, on Nov. 5, 2016, an off-duty New Kent officer noticed a defendant rolling a joint at the 7-Eleven in Eltham. The officer contacted an on-duty deputy who responded and questioned Johnson about his actions. The defendant eventually later admitted to rolling up a cigar that contained synthetic marijuana inside of it.
Under the plea agreement, Johnson received a 12-month jail sentence, with all but six months suspended (six months to serve).
–Luke Joseph Todd, 28, of the 9600 block of Windmere Drive, New Kent, entered a guilty plea to a lone charge of DUI (third offense between 5-10 years) as part of a plea agreement.
In a summary of evidence, on July 14, New Kent Sheriff’s Office received a tip about a Green Dodge truck driving erratically on Quaker Road. According to the caller, the vehicle sped and slowed up at different paces and began to weave across the center of the road. The truck pulled into the Star Express in Quinton and the driver exited. The store manager, noticing the driver may possibly be intoxicated, contacted authorities after he saw the man pass out in his truck. An officer arrived, noticing a bottle of moonshine between the driver’s legs. The driver, now identified as Todd, had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and produced a blood-alcohol content level over the legal limit after taking a breathalyzer test. A background search on the defendant that he had committed two similar experiences in the past.
Under the agreement, Todd received a five-year jail sentence with four years, six months suspended (six months to serve). He must also pay a $1,000 fine and pay $50 to the Trauma Fund.