RICHMOND - The Virginia Court of Appeals has upheld convictions of a Petersburg man in connection with the 2020 armed robbery of a Dinwiddie healthcare worker that resulted in a high-speed chase through portions of Dinwiddie and Petersburg.
In its ruling Tuesday, the court rejected 20-year-old Devontay Teshorn Browder's claim that he was not involved in the robbery and that he was only in the getaway car because he caught a ride in it after the robbery. Browder asserted during both his 2021 trial and in the appeal that an "unbroken chain of events" by the prosecution resulted in his convictions and sentencing
Browder was convicted in Dinwiddie Circuit Court last May on charges of robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and credit card theft. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison with 18 of those years suspended.
He had been identified at trial by the robbery victim as the person who pointed a gun at her as she sat in her car and demanded money. A Dinwiddie sheriff's deputy also identified him as the person he caught running from the getaway car, which had been reported stolen from a gas station just minutes before the robbery.
In upholding the convictions, the appellate court said Browder's argument "rests on the hypothesis that he entered the car between the robbery and the end of the police chase." Evidence presented during the trial, however, "supported the trial court's conclusion that Browder was the driver during the entire incident."
On the night of June 17, 2020, the victim said she had just pulled up to the Dinwiddie Health and Rehab Center where she worked when a silver car pulled in behind her and blocked her from getting out. The victim testified that the suspect she claimed was Browder approached her asking for help but then pulled the gun on her and demanded her wallet. She said the gunman walked away then came back claiming there was very little cash inside the billfold, but she told him the credit cards were usable. After the gunman got back in the car and drove off, the victim called police. She later testified at trial that the wallet contained $13, plus an additional $500 stored in a "hidden place."
Shortly before the robbery, a man called Dinwiddie deputies to report his car had been stolen from a gas station not far from the rehab center. As the man was talking to the deputies, his car sped past them heading north on U.S. Route 1 toward Petersburg.
Read the full ruling from the Court of Appeals below.
The deputies chased the car into Petersburg, where they were joined by a Petersburg Police officer. The chase finally ended on Grigg Street in the city's Kenilworth neighborhood, and Browder was captured as he fled the vehicle.
During the trial, the deputies testified that there were a couple of times that the fleeing car was out of their sight. However, according to trial records, the police officer from Petersburg testified that when he first saw the silver car, he could also see the blue lights of the Dinwiddie deputy cars pursuing it.
"From that, the trial court could infer that the police were close enough during the entire chase that the original occupants of the silver car would not have stopped to take on a new occupant, let alone switch out drivers," the Court of Appeals wrote in its ruling. The ruling also stated that Browder never produced evidence of not being in the car at the time of the robbery, claiming "nothing more than the theoretical possibility that he could have replaced a previous driver during the chase."
The Dinwiddie commonwealth's attorney's office did not prosecute Browder for the theft of the car.
Browder is currently serving his sentence at the Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Brunswick County, according to information from the Virginia Department of Corrections website. He is scheduled to be released in 2033.
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Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is a journalist and daily news coach for USA TODAY' Network's Atlantic Region which includes Virginia. He is based in Petersburg, Virginia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Virginia appeals court upholds convictions in 2020 Dinwiddie robbery