BELTON — After hearing testimony and arguments, a Bell County judge on Thursday afternoon sentenced a Harker Heights man to deferred adjudication probation after the man used a knife earlier this year to rob two convenience store clerks within 10 minutes of each other.
Around 20 family and friends of Quinton Ford, 17, packed the 264th Judicial District Court for the afternoon hearing, and there were plenty of smiles after Judge Paul LePak sentenced Ford to ten years of deferred adjudication probation.
Aggravated robbery is a first-degree felony punishable by five to 99 years in prison, according to the Texas Penal Code. Ford pleaded guilty in October and the plea arrangement called for a cap of 40 years.
Ford next will remain in custody at an intermediate sanction facility, which are “…used for short-term incarceration of offenders...” according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which has three such facilities.
He then will live with his older sister, who testified during the hearing. LePak also ordered that Ford attend a victim impact meeting and write a letter of apology to the two victims.
“I want you to understand the degree of fault and error and the fear that you caused ... put some real effort into the letters,” LePak said.
He further admonished the young defendant.
“I’m not sure if I’m doing you any favors: If you fail to live up to the terms of your probation, you’re facing 5-99 years in prison,” LePak said. “You will never be a 17-year-old and first-time offender on a felony level again, and you will never be treated that way again.”
Ford has spent the majority of his 17th year in the Bell County Jail, held in lieu of bonds totaling $205,000 including the two felony charges and a Class A misdemeanor charge of evading arrest or detention.
Ford was arrested and booked into jail on April 29 after Heights police said he and a juvenile male robbed two stores, each using knives to threaten two store clerks, according to the arrest affidavit.
The juvenile male, who was a few months younger than Ford, received one year of probation for the aggravated robberies, according to Ford’s defense attorney.
The first robbery took place just before midnight on April 28 at the Sam Food Mart in the 2300 block of Indian Trail, where Ford and the juvenile, their faces covered, were able to use a knife to corner the clerk and then steal the cash drawer and tobacco products.
About 10 minutes later, around 12:30 a.m. on April 29, Heights police said they responded to a second aggravated robbery at Cefco in the 900 block of Indian Trail, in which about $105 was stolen. The description of the two suspects matched those involved in the prior robbery.
Police said Ford and the juvenile took a cash register drawer worth $420, as well as $206 in cash and change, and cigars.
Heights police located the men at another gas station, sitting in a car that the juvenile had stolen from a family member, according to courtroom discussions on Thursday. Ford ran out of his tennis shoe while fleeing from police.
Neither of the female victims, both in their 30s, were in court on Thursday, but four people testified for Ford. The state prosecutor asked LePak to consider the victim’s impact statement written by one of the two women.
“She writes that she’s now traumatized, has anxiety and is fearful of the defendant, which is why she’s not in court today,” said Assistant District Attorney Mike Waldman during his closing argument.
Waldman asked the judge to impose a prison sentence while Ford’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Linick, argued that Ford was deserving of a second chance through deferred adjudication probation.
“He’s 17 years old, had a bit of a troubled childhood and a misdemeanor juvenile record, but he’s a student, a churchgoer and had never seen the inside of a jail cell before this,” Linick said.
The defense attorney laid some of the blame at the co-defendant’s feet as a bad influence.
“But (Ford) is responsible for his own actions,” he said. “He’s going to have to grow up fast. He has a great support system, so I’m asking you not to turn him into something he’s not.”
Waldman said he considers the victims in these cases.
“These were two ladies working a midnight shift, probably getting paid by the hour, and they look at the door every time somebody walks in but they have a level of trust,” he said. Ford and the juvenile “took what was in the register, they took Black and Mild cigars and they took the trust of these two women. These women are members of our community and they deserve protection and justice.”
The prosecutor argued against deferred adjudication probation.
“Probation would be a scenic route right back here,” Waldman said. “The community knows what should happen: he should go to prison.”
Each of the four people who testified for Ford expressed surprise that he used a knife to rob two women.
“It’s not anything that I would have expected from him; I almost passed out when I heard,” said Tracy Honey, Ford’s grandmother by marriage. “He’s a kid who made a bad choice. It was out of character and I believe there was a deeper issue.”
LePak asked Honey to explain what she meant, and Honey elaborated that there were issues with narcotics in his family and that he lived with grandparents before moving to his sister’s home in another Texas city.
“He moved because he was trying to get out of a bad situation,” Honey said. “Even though he has good people in his life, he didn’t always have great examples.”
LePak asked several questions about Ford’s use of drugs, and Honey said that she could see some signs of illegal drugs such as weight loss.
Ford was living in another Texas city with his older sister, Taylor Johnson, before the robberies. That weekend, Ford decided to visit the Killeen area because he wanted to hang out with his friend, the juvenile co-defendant. Johnson said her brother had been working on his GED and she agreed to help if he were to get probation.
“While he was living with me, we didn’t have any issues,” she said, although she admitted that Ford had a problem with authority.
Waldman pointed to the mass of people in the courtroom to support Ford. “There are a lot of people he could have gotten money from if he needed it but he decided to get a knife and get it himself,” he said.