ELIZABETHTON — Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp handed down a 16-year sentence Wednesday for 21-year-old James Tennessee Vance, who had been convicted of two counts of aggravated robbery in Carter County and another count of aggravated robbery in Washington County.
Vance and his attorney, David Robbins, contended he was not a dangerous criminal, but had been driven to commit the robberies of the convenience stores because of drug addiction. Robbins said Vance’s family attended the sentencing hearing and he has a lot of family support.
“He was motivated by his need to get more money to get more drugs to feed his addiction,” Robbins said.
Assistant District Attorney General Melanie Sellers said Vance’s actions were not those of a distressed drug abuser but of someone who was choosing a violent lifestyle.
“We have a defendant who chose to be a drug pusher. He chose to acquire a handgun. He chose to rob a convenience store in a more violent manner than was necessary ... He chose stores with a lady clerk ... he chose to put a gun to her face. ... That indicates something much, much more threatening than an addiction,” Sellers said.
She said drug abusers don’t usually commit acts of violence to obtain money for drugs. She said they steal, commit forgery, shoplift and commit burglaries.
Cupp acknowledged Sellers’ argument. Addressing Vance, the judge said “Your are one of the few I have seen who has taken in to this extreme level.”
In a Sept. 28-29 trial, a Carter County Jury found Vance guilty of two counts of aggravated robbery. Both were armed robberies of the Quick Stop Market, 2404 W. Elk Ave. The first robbery took place around 2:20 a.m. Nov. 23, 2009. The second robbery was around 5:20 a.m. Nov. 25, 2009.
In both instances, the robber entered the store, held the pistol at the clerk’s face and demanded she give him cash. In the second robbery, the man went around the counter and pointed the pistol at the clerk while she took the money from the cash register and gave it to him.
A third aggravated robbery conviction from the Roadrunner Convenience Store at 408 N. Broadway St., Johnson City, was also included in the sentencing hearing. Another aggravated robbery and rape charge from the Broadway Roadrunner was dismissed, Sellers said, because it was phony.
Vance said it was not really a robbery and the clerk had been his girlfriend. He said they had broken up on the day of the robbery, but carried through with the staged robbery. After taking the money, he said they had consensual sex in the store.
In reaching a decision on sentencing, Cupp said “you walked into a store and put a gun in someone’s face. I don’t know what else could get as close to taking a person’s life.”
He sentenced Vance to eight years on each robbery. He ordered the Washington County robbery and one of the Carter County robberies to run consecutively, for a 16-year sentence. The other sentence will run concurrently.