Maurice Robinson to Chris Watson: “stick to the plan”
By Shavonne Walker
Christopher Watson admitted during court testimony Tuesday he initially “stuck to the plan” to tell investigators he didn’t know anything about a 2012 robbery and subsequent murder at Z&H Mart.
Watson, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to killing the store owner Hecham Abualeinan, said he soon discovered Maurice Robinson was “setting him up.”
Robinson, 37, is on trial for his involvement in the December 2012 crime. Prosecutors have said Robinson manipulated a crack cocaine addicted Watson and a trusting Kevin Canzator, who is related to Robinson by marriage.
Assistant District Attorney Tim Gould said at the beginning of the trial, Robinson was the mastermind behind the three robberies.
Watson, 26, agreed to testify against Robinson as part of his plea arrangement. Watson had faced the death penalty, if convicted at trial. He even wrote a letter to Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook asking her to allow him to testify against Robinson.
He wrote that he wanted to “make sure he (Robinson) goes to jail” and explained that he accepted responsibility for his role in the crime.
Watson went onto write that Robinson “played his part in destroying a lot of lives that night.”
Watson detailed his involvement in the robberies and murder saying he did it because he owed Robinson for the crack cocaine he was given, because Robinson put up bail money for Watson and Watson’s family was threatened.
As a way to “pay back” Robinson, Watson said Robinson made him go to the Webb Road Flea Market where he panhandled for much of the day for weeks and collected anywhere from $200 to $400 in a week. The majority of that money went to Robinson.
“I felt my family’s life was in danger if I didn’t do what Maurice said,” Watson said.
When asked what he meant by his thought that his family was in danger, Watson said Robinson told him he knew where his grandmother lived, where Watson’s mother worked and knew about it his young daughter.
Watson corroborated co-defendant Kevin Canzator’s testimony from earlier in the day. Watson said Maurice Robinson planned the robberies and collected the majority of the money from them.
Investigators said Watson, Canzator and Robinson went to the Neighborhood Market with the intent to rob the store. The West Horah Street store was robbed in November and early December prior to the Z&H Mart robbery.
Watson said he was given the gun he used in all three robberies from Robinson and did as Robinson instructed him. He said it was also Robinson’s idea to burn the clothes used in the robberies afterward.
An emotional Watson described the final robbery saying he didn’t go in the store with the intent to kill Abualeinan. He said when he first went into the store, Abualeinan told him there was other people in the store, but Watson said he didn’t see anyone else.
He said he fired a warning shot into the air. He said Abualeinan picked up a metal bag rack as if he were going to hurl it toward Watson. He said he turned to look out the front door. As he backed up, Abualeinan picked up the phone.
“I had my finger on the trigger and the gun went off. Mr. Abualeinan fell to the floor,” Watson said, crying.
He said he didn’t initially see any blood and thought Abualeinan was pretending to be hurt in the hopes that Watson would leave. Watson stepped around to the register and took the money.
“I looked at him and said ‘please don’t be dead’ and I ran out of the store,” Watson testified.
Watson said he was so confused and scared that he may have injured or killed Abualeinan that he “didn’t remember which way to go and ran behind the store and through the woods.” He soon met up with Canzator and Robinson riding inside Canzator’s car.
Watson said he thought he’d shot Abualeinan in the stomach until he learned over the course of the next day that the store owner was dead.
Robinson told Watson if police found out to tell them he was at Robinson’s uncle’s house. Even when he first talked to law enforcement, Watson maintained he didn’t know anything about the robberies.
“I told them whoever did it deserved to get caught, which is true. But I didn’t tell them it was me,” Watson said.
“When investigators asked you about what happened at Z&H Mart, you denied it,” District Attorney Brandy Cook said to Watson.
“He told me to stick to the story. I was scared for my family’s safety,” Watson said.
Watson talked to Salisbury Police investigators, who questioned him about the West Horah Street robberies. Unprovoked, Watson told investigators he didn’t mean to shoot the Z&H Mart store owner.
Watson confessed to Rowan Sheriff’s investigators only after learning Robinson set him up. When Robinson was brought in to talk with authorities, he told them he could hand Watson over to them.
The testimony will resume today at 9:30 a.m.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.
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