By Michelle Guffey
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON A 22-year-old former Fort Hood soldier was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in prison for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon.
Chimeniem Odu Echendu, sentenced by Judge Martha Trudo of the 264th District Court for the Nov. 7, 2003, charge, was a member of a criminal street gang known as the Gangster Disciples, based out of Chicago.
According to the arrest affidavit, Echendu and two fellow gang members, Brandon Reed and Denzel Davis, followed a Harker Heights man from his place of business to his home and robbed him with a Tazer and a 9 mm handgun. Echendu, with the gun, and Davis, with the Tazer, approached the man at his front door. Reed was waiting in the car parked a few houses down.
In testimony at his sentencing hearing, Echendu said that he and Davis went up to the man and took his money. Echendu hit him on the head a couple of times with the gun because the victim was resisting.
Im a foot soldier. That means I obey commands and execute orders, Echendu said.
During last months trial of Sgt. Jerome A. Smith, leader of the local GD, Reed testified that he was ordered by Smith to commit a series of robberies and to hand over the money to Smith.
Smith was sentenced to 99 years in prison for the Nov. 7 and Nov. 9, 2003, armed robberies. He was charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon as a member of a criminal street gang even though he wasnt in town when both incidents occurred.
Echendu testified that Reed told him to help him get some money. They acquired a gun and a Tazer from another GD, William Brown.
In the arrest affidavit, Reed stated that he, Echendu and Davis watched the man close up his convenience store and followed him home. The victim screamed for help, and his wife came to the door and found him bleeding.
The victim received 18 staples in his head, sustained nerve damage and still suffers from headaches.
Judge Trudo asked Echendu why he had to hit the victim. Youre bigger than he is. You had a gun, she said.
Echendu replied that Reed had given him the gun and told him to use it. He (the victim) was resisting, he said.
Echendu told the court that he decided to testify against Smith because he had decided to give his life to Christ. The Bible says the truth shall set you free, he said.
When Echendu was arrested, he said he was confined with other GD members Smith, Calvin Williams and Michael Johnson. Williams was released on bond and was set to testify against Smith. He was last seen the first day of Smiths trial; the state fears foul play.
Echendu said he received threats from Smith and was told not to say anything. After he testified, Echendu said he was threatened by Smith, not verbally, but had been flashed gang signs when he walked by Smiths jail cell.
Echendu announced that he didnt consider himself a GD anymore. I consider myself Gods disciple, he said.
But prosecutor Michael Waldman asked him if it was really his decision to get out of the gang. Its the gangs decision to whether or not to let you out, he said.
Waldman said Echendu wasnt a typical gang-banger.
Most that I have talked to come from broken homes, have no male role models and usually have violent childhoods, Waldman said. But you come from a stable home, and both parents are professionals, referring to Echendus parents professions as a criminologist and economist. His parents are currently living in Nigeria.
Waldman asked Echendu why he felt the need to join a gang. Echendu said it was because he was away from his own family and he wanted to be a part of one. They told me it was about looking out for one another, he said. I did not know they were involved in criminal activity.
Normal initiation into the gang required being jumped by six other gang members for six minutes. But Echendu said he was blessed because of the knowledge he had of the gang researching them on the Internet.
From what I researched, I was led to believe it was political. They talked about the struggle, he said.
Echendu sat at the defense table in his orange jumpsuit, hands and feet in shackles, with his head hanging low while is attorney, Jim Hewitt, presented his closing argument.
He (Echendu) has stood up admirably while in jail, helping the prosecution and turning his back on the GD, Hewitt said.
Hewitt said that there is danger to Echendu, whether its inside prison or out. He has separated himself from just about everyone to keep them safe, he said.
Judge Trudo sentenced Echendu to 25 years in prison in accordance with the terms of his plea bargain. His plea bargain stated that his sentencing was not to exceed 50 years and that he was to waive his right to appeal.
Contact Michelle Guffey at firstname.lastname@example.org