Ex-girlfriend details violent relationship with man on trial for murder

Published 12:10 am Friday, February 12, 2016

By Shavonne Walker


The former girlfriend of a man on trial for the 2012 murder of Z&H Mart store owner Hecham Abualeinan says he had a violent past.

Ashley Dawn Bentley testified in court Thursday that Maurice Robinson was verbally and physically abusive to her throughout their 10-year relationship. Prosecutors have said the 37-year-old was the mastermind behind a series of robberies that eventually led to the murder of the store owner.

In fact, Robinson planned two prior robberies at the Neighborhood Market on West Horah Street in November and a few weeks later in December. Christopher Watson went into the store each time with a Halloween mask and a gun.

Prosecutors said Robinson planned the Z&H Mart robbery and had Christopher Watson carry that one out too. Watson was sentenced to life in prison in 2015 after accepting a plea agreement.

Co-defendant Kevin Canzator is expected to be released from prison in 2030. Canzator, who is related to Robinson by marriage, also accepted a plea agreement. Both men will testify against Robinson, attorneys said.

Bentley pleaded guilty as part of her involvement in the crimes. She was given probation. The 30-year-old Bentley admitted in court she drove Watson to and from one of the robberies.

She refused to drive him to  a previous robbery attempt at the Mooresville Road store. Bentley said instead of turning toward the store like Robinson told her she instead drove home. The two later argued about her unwillingness to participate.
Jurors also heard about the final minutes of Abualeinan’s life. Abualeinan’s wife, Maisa, told the court how the family rushed into the store fearing that Abualeinan had been struck on the head by a customer. The family didn’t immediately know he was dead until emergency personnel confirmed it.
Maisa said she pleaded with emergency responders to save her husband, but it was too late. After he was pronounced dead and the family had made their way out of the store, Maisa said she tried to go back into the store to see her husband one final time.
Authorities spent well into the next morning collecting evidence and interviewing family members, including Abualeinan’s daughter Zina and son Yousef.Locke Fire Department Capt. Bradley McKnight was the first responder on the scene, he told the court. He said when he first arrived, it appeared Abualeinan had fallen and hit his head. The Syrian native was lying face down on the floor and a pool of blood had gathered around his head.

Hecham Nauraldin Abualeinan

Hecham Nauraldin Abualeinan

McKnight said Abualeinan was rolled over onto his back and he along with two other responders worked to find a pulse. The men would later confirm the store owner was already deceased.

Jurors heard from law enforcement officers and crime scene investigators about what they heard and saw. Ronald Mesimer, a crime scene investigator with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, said he obtained DNA swabs off the store door and other areas in the store in the hope that whoever had killed Abualeinan had left behind evidence.

Rowan County Sheriff’s Detective Lt. Chad Moose also testified briefly about his response to the scene the night of the shooting. Moose told the court about watching the store surveillance video and creating a timeline the events that led up to the shooting of Abualeinan.

Bentley will continue her testimony this morning. Judge Joe Crosswhite said depending on the weather the trial could be extended through the end of next week.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.