Jurors hear opening statements in Z&H Mart owner murder trial

Published 12:05 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

By Shavonne Walker


A Rowan County man on trial for murder may not have pulled the trigger that killed Z&H Mart convenience store owner Hecham Abualeinan in a 2012 robbery, but prosecutors say he was the mastermind behind the planned crime.

Maurice Robinson, 37, is on trial for his role in the robbery turned murder. Co-defendants Christopher Watson and Kevin Canzator pleaded guilty last year and are currently serving their sentences. Watson, who was the shooter in the armed robbery, was sentenced to life in prison while Canzator is expected to be released sometime in 2030.

Abualeinan was shot once on the side of the head and died shortly thereafter.

Jurors heard opening statements Wednesday afternoon following two and a half days of jury selection. The trial is expected to last through the week.

Investigators say the three rode together to the store, located at 3610 Mooresville Road, with Canzator driving the vehicle. Canzator and Robinson went inside the store, walked out and a few seconds later Watson walked in, wielding a gun. He fired a “warning” shot into the air. When the store owner reached for the phone, investigators said, Watson shot him in the head.

The robbery played out on store surveillance, which showed Abualeinan falling to the floor. Watson stepped over the man and grabbed money from the register. He walked out of the store and the three left the scene.

In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Tim Gould said Watson was addicted to crack cocaine and indebted to Robinson, who’d initially supplied him with the drug at no cost. Gould said Canzator, who’d never been in trouble and never had a record, was manipulated by Robinson because of their relationship.

Robinson had Canzator believe they were close cousins. Robinson had partial blindness following surgery from a brain aneurysm, and he led Canzator believe he needed his help to get around. Officials have said Canzator and Robinson were not blood related, but possibly by marriage.

“The evidence will show that in a span of 18 days, Maurice Robinson planned, committed and benefited from three robberies,” Gould said.

Before the three robbed Z&H Mart, they robbed Neighborhood Market in November and again in December. Prosecutors said the only reason they robbed the West Horah Street store was because Robinson believed owner Sultan Qasem had a lot of money on him and in the store.

Gould said jurors would also hear from Canzator and Watson, both of whom have agreed to testify against Robinson. Two others — Ashley Dawn Bentley, Robinson’s then-girlfriend, and Mike Miller, a childhood friend of Robinson’s — had limited involvement in the crimes.

According to court statements, Bentley drove Watson from the Neighborhood Market store robbery to a home she shared with Robinson.

She pleaded guilty in June 2015 to accessory after the fact of robbery and was given 18 months of probation. Miller also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was also given probation.

Gould told jurors what they could expect from the trial, including hearing a 911 call made by Zina Abualeinan, the daughter of Hecham Abualeinan.

‘Send help please’

Zina Abualeinan grew emotional just before prosecutors played the 911 tape where she pleaded for help for her father. The young Abualeinan, now 17, said she heard a noise while in the apartment behind the store. She looked on surveillance video and saw her father on the floor.

Believing he’d been attacked by a customer, Zina told her mother something was wrong and the family rushed into the store. The teen could be heard shouting into the phone for help from emergency personnel while her mother and brother could be heard crying and screaming in the background.

“Send help please,” she could be heard saying.

The 911 call, which was about six to seven minutes long, was at times unclear. The operator kept asking the teen to repeat her words and asked to speak to an adult.

Zina said she did not know her father was dead until emergency personnel told her at the scene.

Jurors also heard from Jose Martinez, a construction worker who was putting in tile in the family’s bathroom. He tried to help Zina make the call to 911, but needed an interpreter, the tape reveals.

Through an interpreter in court, Martinez testified that he didn’t hear a gunshot, but went into the store with the family to see what happened.

Robinson’s attorney Darrin Jordan told the court his client had a less than average IQ, had tested numerous times as intellectually deficient and had been in and out of mental institutions.

Salisbury Police Officer Mark Harrington also testified. He was the officer who responded to the two robberies at the Neighborhood Market.

The trial resumes today at 9:30 a.m. in superior court.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.