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Little Rock man sentenced to 25 years after pleading guilty to robbery, battery and sex offender registry violation

Pleads guilty to eight charges by John Lynch | November 3, 2022 at 3:22 a.m.
court gavel

A sex offender who shot a Church's Chicken employee while robbing the Little Rock restaurant has accepted a 25-year prison sentence for the November 2019 holdup and unrelated offenses.

Sentencing papers filed Friday show 38-year-old Roosevelt Leon Nelson III of Little Rock pleaded guilty to robbery, reduced from aggravated robbery, first-degree battery, felon in possession of a firearm, theft, failure to register as a sex offender and three drug charges in exchange for the 25-year term imposed by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Leon Johnson. The plea agreement was negotiated by deputy prosecutor Cameron Coker and defense attorney Willard Proctor.

Johnny Davis, the 55-year-old restaurant worker, was shot in the chest about 1½ weeks before Thanksgiving 2019 by a hoodie-wearing man with glasses who entered the store holding a long silver revolver by his side, according to police reports. The holdup was recorded on security cameras.

The gunman told workers, "Y'all know what's up. Y'all know what to do. Give me all of the money," ordering one of them to take the cash from the drive-thru before demanding Davis give him the code to the safe, one employee told police. When Davis said he didn't know the code, the robber fired off a round and accused Davis of lying, the worker stated.

A second employee told police she had seen the man come into the store and go into the restroom, stating that she next saw him when he came into the kitchen with a "silver cowboy-looking" gun and told her to bring him the drive-thru money.

She, too, described seeing the gunman demand the safe code from Davis, calling the man by his name. She told police she heard two gunshots after Davis said he didn't know the code, court records show.

A witness who saw the robber shoot said when Davis told the gunman he did not know the safe code, the robber pointed the gun at Davis, who responded by trying to push the weapon away, and the gun fired. A second shot was fired and Davis fell to the floor bleeding, the witness said. He told police he used a towel to try and stop the bleeding as the robber fled.

Nelson immediately became a suspect because the employees recognized him as the husband of one of the store managers, 34-year-old Whitney Nicole Nelson, court records show. Questioned later that night, she told police she didn't know anything about her husband robbing the restaurant. Nelson surrendered the next day.

In custody, Nelson told police a friend had given him a ride to Church's and loaned him a revolver. Nelson said he'd gone to the restaurant to confront Davis about "messing" with his wife, describing how he'd gone behind the counter after Davis refused to come out of the kitchen and talk to him, court filings show.

Nelson said he didn't intend to rob the store but that the workers voluntarily gave him the money from the cash registers. Nelson further told police that he shot Davis after the older man "rushed" him," saying he had fired at Davis' legs. Nelson said the gun fired again, hitting Davis, saying he then left with the money and went to where his friend was waiting, giving the friend the gun and the money. He said he then went to a hotel, according to court records.

Questioned in a rehab center about a month after the shooting, Davis told police all he remembered was going to work then waking up in the hospital. Davis said he knew Nelson but did not recall the shooting.

In an August letter to the judge, Nelson's wife described him as "very caring, sweet and will give the shirt off his back to help anyone." She said that over the past few years, however, he had been dealing with the chronic pain of sickle-cell anemia and the loss of a close relative to the disease with drug abuse, resulting in a drug addiction that was "crazy bad" and occasionally drove him to self harm.

His bail initially set at $1 million, Nelson spent about 3½ months in jail before the amount was lowered to $250,000 in February 2020, which he posted through a bonding company to be released. In November 2020, Nelson was arrested in Benton with a gun and methamphetamine, resulting in gun and drug charges that he pleaded guilty to in October 2021 in Saline County Circuit Court in exchange for seven years on probation.

Deemed in violation of his Pulaski County bond conditions, Nelson was next arrested at his Little Rock home in February 2021 with police finding him with cocaine, methamphetamine and the prescription medication alprazolam, however those charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to his other charges.

Court records show Nelson had been on probation since August 2017 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree forgery for cashing a stolen check in May 2016.

His probation was extended in December 2018 after he pleaded guilty to two counts of terroristic threatening, reduced from felonies, for threatening to kill two Little Rock police officers who arrested him in April 2018.

According to police reports, Nelson was at UAMS after being in a car crash in the 100 block of John Barrow Road, with police discovering he was wanted in Wisconsin, where he has a 2003 conviction for second-degree sexual assault of a child. Nelson told police he ran off the road and crashed into a wall after another car pulled in front of him.

He declined medical treatment at the crash site but then told police he needed to go to the hospital after he had been taken into custody. At the hospital, officers had to force him to get out of their patrol car to go inside, with Nelson screaming death threats at the officers, who arrested him on the threatening charges after he was medically cleared to be released.

Three months after pleading guilty to the threats charges, Nelson was arrested during a Little Rock traffic stop for not having a license plate after police found him with marijuana, cocaine and medication he did not have a prescription for.

The resulting police investigation determined that Nelson had not reported his current living address to authorities. He was on bail on those charges when he was arrested for the Church's robbery and shooting.

Print Headline: LR man receives 25-year sentence


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