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Cabbie feared for life during alleged robbery

Taxi driver gives emotional testimony about being beaten, having money taken from him at gunpoint

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- A city taxi cab driver gave emotional testimony in court Tuesday about the night a man robbed him of his money at gunpoint.

Now the case against the suspect in the robbery and a woman accused of knowing about the plot and helping him hide the gun goes to a grand jury.

Robert Eric Harris, 23, of Stephens City, and Brandy Elizabeth Wells, 18, of Winchester, appeared in Frederick County General District Court for a joint preliminary hearing to determine if probable cause exists to send their charges related to the robbery to a grand jury.

Judge David S. Whitacre certified Wells' charges of conspiracy and robbery as an accessory before the fact. The judge certified Harris' charges of robbery, conspiracy, malicious wounding and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The grand jury meets April 5.

Authorities had accused Harris of robbing Polly's Cab driver Michael Bryant at gunpoint the night of Nov. 24 in a hotel parking lot on Millwood Pike. Bryant testified at the hearing that Harris entered the cab and recalled he could see the defendant had a pistol in his lap. A second or two later Harris put the gun up to his right temple and demanded he drive around to the rear of the hotel, Bryant said.

"He hit me upside the head with the butt of his pistol," the driver recalled. "Every time I tried to turn to look at him he hit me upside the head with the pistol."

Bryant testified Harris hit him in the head five times with the semi-automatic pistol and caused him to bleed.

Harris left the cab with a "fanny pack" containing three, $20 bills, a coin changer and GPS devices, and fled on foot toward the rear of a neighboring hotel, according to Bryant.

"I thought he was going to kill me," Bryant testified, holding back tears. "The only thing I could think about was my son."

Law enforcement agents investigating the case testified they recovered the coin changer in the tank of a toilet in the hotel room where they made contact with Wells. Later they found the "fanny pack" and the alleged weapon in the case, a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol.

The court heard testimony from a teenage friend of Wells who recalled that the woman told her Harris said he robbed a taxi driver. At some point, the teen said, she saw Wells try to hide what she thought was a gun wrapped in a gray glove. The defense questioned whether the witness ever saw a firearm.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ross Spicer put on evidence of a taped conversation between an informant and Wells, during which the prosecutor said the defendant admitted to knowing about the robbery ahead of time. But Wells' attorney, Matt Beyrau, questioned whether statements made earlier merely showed her knowledge after the fact.

Beyrau argued the commonwealth's evidence did not show his client knew about the robbery plan ahead of time nor plotted with anyone else to commit the crime.

Harris' attorney, J. David Black, argued evidence showed his client may have committed assault but the severity of Bryant's injuries did not rise to the level of malicious wounding, Bryant testified he did not go to the hospital right after the incident and when he did, the man did not need stitches. Black also argued that evidence didn't connect his client with the firearm recovered in the investigation.

Whitacre dismissed a charge of possession of cocaine against Harris, siding with the defense that the commonwealth's evidence failed to connect the drugs to the defendant.

At Spicer's request, Whitacre dismissed Wells' remaining misdemeanor charges of possession of a concealed firearm and prostitution, and Harris' charges of grand larceny as a principle in the second degree and possession of a concealed firearm.

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