Two D.C. men found guilty of killing store owner during robbery

A D.C. Superior Court jury Thursday found two Southeast Washington men guilty of numerous charges associated with the armed robberies of two check-cashing stores last year, one of which culminated in the fatal shooting of one of the store’s owners.

After about a day of deliberations, the jury found Gregory Trotter, 58, and Ernest Pee Jr., 51, guilty of felony murder, conspiracy, armed robbery and other charges in connection with the June 17, 2010, fatal shooting of Prabhjot Singh, 30, during a robbery of Singh’s store in the 2300 block of Benning Road NE.

Singh was killed trying to help one of the store’s customers during the robbery, said prosecutors Deborah Sines and Adam Schwartz. When Trotter grabbed a woman who was in the store, they said, Singh lunged from behind the counter and tackled him. The two men wrestled and rolled out onto the sidewalk, where Trotter allegedly yelled “get off me” to Singh before shooting Singh in the left eye.

“One shot was all Mr. Trotter needed,” Sines told the jury.

After the shooting, prosecutors said, Trotter went back in the store and helped Pee gather about $40,000 in cash.


Gregory Trotter, seen here holding a gun on a check-cashing store employee in security footage, was found guilty today of the fatal shooting of a check-cashing store owner in June 2010. (Courtesy of the U.S. Attorney's Office)

During the scuffle with Singh, prosecutors said, Trotter’s baseball cap and cellphone flew. Detectives recovered the hat, and the phone was traced to Trotter.

To try to prove their case, prosecutors relied on grainy surveillance video from the store as well as Trotter’s DNA found on his cap.

Detectives testified that they could identify the men in the video by the shapes of their bodies and their complexions, although the men’s noses and mouths were covered by masks.

The men’s attorneys said that police arrested the wrong men. Five of the six witnesses identified the robbers as being 20 to 25 years old. Pee’s DNA was not found on the scene, his attorney said.

Prosecutors said that, in addition to wearing masks, the duo intentionally wore youthful clothes — baseball caps and large, bulky jackets — to disguise themselves.

Singh’s father, who sat in the courtroom during the trial, was beaten by Pee during the robbery, prosecutors said. After the robbers fled, the video showed Singh’s father running outside and falling on top of his son.

The jury also found the men guilty of armed robbery and assault in the May 28, 2010, robbery of a check-cashing store in 4000 block of Minnesota Avenue NE. Sentencing is scheduled before Judge Gerald Fisher on Feb. 10.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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