Trial begins for man charged in robbery gone fatally wrong

Prosecutors laid out their case Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court on the first day of the trial of a Hyattsville man who authorities say was one of the orchestrators of a botched 2009 robbery that resulted in the death of one of the holdup suspects.

Authorities say Raylen D. Wilkerson and five other men hatched a scheme in Wilkerson’s Temple Hills auto accessory shop to rob and kidnap Tyrone Herring, 46, on Dec. 1, 2009. Prosecutors say the men targeted Herring because he was a drug dealer.

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During the robbery attempt, outside the apartment building of Herring’s girlfriend in the 4200 block of Fourth Street SE, a fight broke out. One of the robbers, Arvel S. Alston, 40, was accidentally shot to death by his son, Arvel Crawford, who had attempted to shoot Herring as he tried to run.

Also charged was Wilkerson’s cousin, Reginald Jones, 42, a member of the D.C. police plainclothes gun-recovery unit and six-year veteran of the force. Authorities said Wilkerson, 34, and Jones sat in Jones’s marked cruiser, serving as lookouts, as Alston and Crawford, along with Jarvis Clark, 20, and Rashun M. Parker, 29, both of Temple Hills, tried to rob Herring.

Since the shooting, four of the five men — including Jones, who was terminated — have pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges associated with Alston’s killing. The men are awaiting sentencing.

Wilkerson refused to accept a plea deal, saying he was innocent and had been unaware of the robbery plan, and was being linked to the crime by vengeful government cooperators seeking to curry favor in exchange for their testimony.

Prosecutors charged Wilkerson with nine counts, including first-degree felony murder, obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence and armed robbery.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Bach admitted to the jury that the prosecution’s primary evidence is testimony from “a robber, a dirty cop and a drug dealer.”

Jones, who was behind the wheel of his cruiser, with Wilkerson in the passenger seat, drove around the neighborhood where Herring was staying that evening to shoo away potential witnesses, Bach said.

As Herring exited his girlfriend’s apartment building, Alston, Crawford and Parker tried to push him inside his Infiniti in an attempt to take him to his Fort Washington home and rob him there, Bach said.

But Herring fought back. Crawford then pulled out a gun and fired several rounds. One bullet, unbeknownst to Crawford and the other men, struck Crawford’s father, killing him.

“Arvel Crawford’s bullets, like everybody else’s, don’t have a name on them,” Bach said. “Arvel Alston was killed by his own son. He paid for his role in this robbery with his life.”

The men then fled, leaving Alston on the ground with about $4,000 in his pockets, which he had snatched from the center console of Herring’s car. Herring was also left at the scene and later taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

Prosecutors said that after Wilkerson learned about Jones’s arrest from news reports, he told his wife to remove items from their home that Jones had left there, including a D.C. police­issued battering ram, two bulletproof vests, handcuffs, a police radio and a police hat.

“Everything you need to look like a police officer,” Bach said.

Wilkerson’s attorney, Kevin J. McCants, argued that his client had no part in the robbery. McCants repeatedly asked the jury to “keep an open mind” during the trial. He also questioned the motives of Parker, the government’s key informant, who was the first to agree to a plea deal in exchange for his testimony.

“Parker is a person who has a lot of savvy dealings with the criminal justice system,” McCants told the jury. Years earlier, Parker had cooperated with the government as a witness in another homicide case, McCants said.

Parker, dressed in a dark-green prison jumpsuit, testified about the robbery plan and described Wilkerson’s involvement.

He told the jury that Wilkerson identified Herring to the others as a potential target for the robbery.

“This wasn’t a well-planned situation,” Parker said. “It was sloppy. People weren’t together in this situation. People weren’t comfortable with each other.”

 
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