Accused gunman in store owner’s death: ‘I didn’t mean to shoot him’
SALISBURY — The accused shooter in an armed robbery that left a 59-year-old store owner dead said he “didn’t mean to shoot him.”
Christopher Watson uttered the words through tears as detectives led him back out of the Magistrate’s Office Tuesday morning. Watson, 23, and his two accused accomplices in the murder of Z&H?Mart owner Hecham Abualeinan, were charged in two other store robberies.
Watson was emotional from the outset, shaking his head in the back of an unmarked patrol car.
Once out of the car, the handcuffed and shackled 23-year-old said, “I’m sorry,” his voice cracking through sobs.
After officers handed him two more charges of felony robbery with a dangerous weapon, Detective Aaron Safrit escorted the emotional man back to the car.
“I was protecting my family. I didn’t mean to shoot him,” Watson croaked.
Inside the car, Watson leaned his head back against the headrest looking toward the ceiling, crying uncontrollably.
Authorities expected to charge the group in the two robberies at Neighborhood Market, a store on West Horah Street, since last week.
Kevin Canzator and Maurice Alexander Robinson were arrested along with Watson during the murder investigation. All three were charged with first-degree murder and remain in jail under no bond.
Robinson and Canzator were taken into the Magistrate’s Office about 11:30 a.m. Watson was charged shortly after.
Robinson, who told District Judge Beth Dixon he was blind during his first court appearance, did not need officers’ assistance making his way to a nearby patrol car.?Canzator stared at the ground.
Sultan Qasem, the owner of Neighborhood Market, told the Post last week he recognized 20-year-old Canzator as a man who pretended to be a customer during one of his two robberies.
The store was robbed once in November and again in early December.
Days after the most recent West Horah Street robbery, Canzator and Robinson entered the Z&H Mart and bought candy from Abualeinan, a search warrant said.
At 9:30 p.m., the store was near closing time. Abualeinan was the only person in the store.
Surveillance tape showed 11 seconds passed from the time the two customers left to the gunman’s entrance, investigators said.
The shooter approached Abualeinan, but the 59-year-old confronted him. The masked gunman then took a step back toward the door before putting two hands on the gun and firing at Abualeinan’s head, warrants said.
The gunman then walked around the slain man’s body and emptied the cash register.
Canzator and Robinson admitted going to the Z&H Mart on Mooresville Road with a plan to rob it, warrants said. Watson also confessed to Rowan detectives that he shot and killed Abualeinan, the warrant said.
A second search warrant said the trio kept a handgun at an apartment on East Bank Street and stashed the pistol there after the murder.
Salisbury Police detectives searched the East Bank Street apartment about 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 12. According to the warrant, detectives found digital scales, burned marijuana cigarettes and a black leather holster. It did not indicate if the murder weapon was found.
According to warrants, detectives believe the handgun used to kill Abualeinan was the same one pointed at Qasem during the store robbery just days before.
After telling Watson authorities had information linking him to the West Horah Street robberies, he confessed, warrants show.
Following the fatal Z&H Mart robbery, the suspects went to a home on Grace Church Road and paid the homeowner in marijuana to burn their clothes, authorities said.
Rowan investigators later found a 1993 Chevrolet Caprice — believed to have been used to get to and from Z&H Mart — parked at an Advance Auto Parts on Jake Alexander Boulevard after Watson told deputies the car broke down on the way back.
A pair of gloves were found in the car, a warrant said.
Outside the Mooresville Road store Tuesday, a tribute that has grown since the shooting stood beside the front door. A for sale sign stood by the roadside.
A family member outside the business asked to reserve his comment for a later time, but reiterated Abualeinan’s commitment to the community.
Teddy bears, wreathes and assorted arrangements surrounded the store’s entrance.
“My friend, we will miss you. You will not be forgotten. Most of all, you are in our thoughts and prayers,” one note read.