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Man on trial for murder had been informant for Salisbury Police

By Shavonne Walker and Mark Wineka

news@salisburypost.com

A State Bureau of Investigation agent and investigators with the Salisbury Police Department and Rowan County Sheriff’s Department spent Wednesday afternoon backing up earlier testimony that Maurice Robinson was fully involved in the 2012 robbery and murder of Z&H Mart owner Hecham Abualeinan.

Much of the case against Robinson revolves around the testimony of Christopher Watson, 26, who pleaded guilty to killing Abualeinan during a robbery at the N.C. 150 store on the night of Dec. 10, 2012.

Prior to the killing and two other robberies connected to Watson, he was acting as a confidential informant for the Salisbury Police Department, Sgt. Mike Colvin revealed in testimony Wednesday.

In 2015, Watson accepted a plea arrangement and avoided the possibility that he could have been sentenced to death during a trial. He also agreed to testify against Robinson.

In previous statements to law enforcement and in testimony this week, Watson implicated Robinson as the man who planned robberies Nov. 22, 2012, and Dec. 5, 2012, at the Neighborhood Market in Salisbury, then the Dec. 10 robbery/homicide at Z&H Mart.

The trial of Robinson, who is charged with murder and three counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, was in its second week with District Attorney Brandy Cook and Assistant DA Tim Gould still presenting the state’s case.

Witnesses Wednesday included Watson, Colvin, Travis Shulenburger of the Salisbury Police Department, SBI agent Steve Holmes and Lt. Chad Moose of the Sheriff’s Office.

Judge Joseph Crosswhite of Statesville has recessed the trial until 9:30 a.m. Monday.

During a four-hour afternoon session Wednesday, the jury saw autopsy photos and read the autopsy report on Abualeinan, who died of a gunshot wound to the head. They also saw the contents of a bag, taken from the home where Watson was living, that contained 11 different Halloween masks similar to ones Watson wore in the three different robberies.

Once again, they heard statements from Watson that Robinson gave him the gun that killed Abualeinan and that he gave the gun back to Robinson immediately after the killing.

They also learned from testimony Wednesday that Watson, Robinson and Kevin Canzator drove to the home of Mike Miller on Grants Creek Road after the homicide so they could burn evidence from the killing in a barrel on Miller’s property.

Wednesday started with Watson’s continuing his testimony, describing how Robinson supplied him with crack cocaine and drugs to sell.

Watson had told the court during Tuesday testimony that if it weren’t for his owing money to Robinson for drugs, Watson never would have been involved in any of the robberies.

“You got hooked on crack cocaine before you met Maurice Robinson?” defense attorney Darrin Jordan asked Watson.

“He didn’t get me hooked, but he supplied me,” Watson said.

Watson said he was already addicted to cocaine prior to meeting Robinson, but also acknowledged he was a drug runner for Robinson.

Watson said earlier he felt indebted to Robinson. Watson said Robinson told him after bailing him out of jail Watson owed him $10,000 because of interest on a $2,000 bond and the cost of drugs Robinson had  supplied to Watson for free.

Watson also has said he only went along with the three robberies because he was scared for the safety of his family. Watson, along with Robinson and Canzator, went to the Neighborhood Market store on West Horah Street on Nov. 22 and Dec. 5, 2012, according to testimony.

In each robbery, Watson donned a Halloween mask and carried a borrowed handgun, went inside and came out with cash. He told the court after each robbery he would give the money to Robinson, who would divide it.

“Maurice came up with the plan and everyone else agreed,” Watson said Wednesday morning.

The idea was to rob the Z&H Mart the same night of the Dec. 5 robbery at Neighborhood Market, but Robinson’s then girlfriend, Ashley Bentley, was scared because there was no specific plan in place.

Bentley, who was driving the robbery night in December, told them she was not going because they had not been inside the store and there was no specific plan in place. Robinson was mad, but later decided he, Watson and Canzator would try again Dec. 10.

Watson went inside wearing a Halloween mask and, using the same borrowed gun he got from Robinson, robbed the Z&H Mart. When the owner grabbed for the phone, Watson shot him.

Watson confessed to the Neighborhood Market robberies after being called in to answer questions about possible involvement in a robbery at the China Buffet restaurant in Salisbury.

Colvin told the court he’d had prior dealings with Watson, who matched the description of the suspect in the China Buffet robbery. Colvin had been talking to Watson when Watson told him about the West Horah Street robberies.

Colvin also revealed the Police Department had used Watson prior to the robberies as a confidential informant related to narcotics investigations. Colvin had asked Watson, who was living in Robinson’s uncle’s house, to consider setting up drug purchases from Robinson.

The department never went forward with that plan because Watson was fearful that if Robinson found out he was working with the police, there would be retributions against Watson’s family, Colvin testified.

Shulenburger said when Watson was brought in for questioning related to the China Buffet robbery, he quickly confessed to the Neighborhood Market robberies.

“It didn’t take me dragging it out of him,” Shulenburger said, adding how Watson also implicated Robinson, Bentley and Canzator in the Salisbury robberies.

Shulenburger later interviewed Robinson, who denied any role in the Neighborhood Market robberies. But statements and testimony from Watson and Canzator have characterized Robinson as the man who planned the robberies and gave Watson a gun each time.

The gun used in the murder of the store owner has never been found.

According to testimony, Canzator and Robinson went into the Z&H Mart first, checked things out and as they emerged, Robinson signaled Watson, who was hiding in their car, to go in and rob the place.

Judging from store surveillance videos at both locations, Moose said, the men apparently purchased gas at the Murphy’s station near Walmart in Salisbury before making the 7.2-mile trip to the Z&H Mart the night of Dec. 10.

SBI agent Holmes described how he and Moose interviewed and processed statements about the murder/robbery from both Watson and Canzator. He and other officers also testified about search warrants executed in relation to the case.

Contact Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253, or shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com.

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