RALEIGH — A Raleigh man pleaded guilty to more than 20 felony counts of robbery, kidnapping, burglary and other offenses related to a series of ATM robberies and kidnappings that had North Raleigh residents on edge late last year.
Walter Kevin Johnson could face more than 160 years in prison. But Johnson’s attorney, Matt Faucette, said after a hearing in Wake County Superior Court on Thursday that he hopes Johnson receives a lesser sentence because of his “almost immediate desire to take full responsibility for the pain and harm he caused for the victims, his family and the community.”
“Walter is not the things that he did,” Faucette said. “He accepts full responsibility, but that’s not who he is.”
Johnson, 29, admitted to a rash of robberies and kidnappings that began Sept. 22 and ended Sept. 27. In four of the cases, the victims were outside their homes when they were approached by an armed man who forced them to drive to a nearby ATM, where he robbed them. In the fifth case, a woman resisted, and the man left empty-handed.
Faucette said a “perfect storm” of events beginning with the birth of Johnson’s first son on Sept. 1 snowballed into a series of bad judgments by his client.
Before the robbery spree, Johnson, was working three jobs, including his own business that maximized the Internet presence of businesses, Faucette said. He said Johnson had several accounts with payments due as well as lawsuits against businesses that owed his company money. The debt and wanting to care for his newborn son led to desperation and robbery, Faucette said.
“His son was born. His car had been repossessed, and he didn’t have money for rent,” he said. “He hardly had money for diapers, and his business was drying up. He made the wrong decisions because he loved his son, but he didn’t think about the harm he caused the community.”
Wake County prosecutor Matt Lively commended Johnson for taking full responsibility for the five-day crime spree.
“He came and pled guilty to everything he was charged with in three months,” Lively said. “I have cases for speeding tickets that are older than this case.”
Sentence ‘up in the air’
But Lively said the length of his sentence was “up in the air.” Lively said Johnson has been convicted of armed robbery before and spent 10 years in prison before he was released in 2011. This time, although Johnson could get as much as 160 years, Lively said it was more likely he would get up to 80 years.
Lively noted that Johnson has been cooperative and that his attorney would like to see him get out of prison “before he expires.”
“He’s already spent 10 years in prison,” Lively said. “Even if he’s cooperative, he’s still going to get a significant amount of time that’s more than 10 years.”
Faucette said Johnson was convicted of armed robbery when he was 16 and in need of guidance and a role model. He said Johnson turned his life around while behind bars; he supervised a Bible study group, served as a mentor for younger prisoners and had an opportunity to work with former Gov. Mike Easley’s office. He also learned computer skills that he used to start a business as soon as he was released from prison.
“It’s a perplexing case,” Faucette said.
The sentencing hearing for Johnson has not been scheduled. In the meantime, Faucette and Lively both said Johnson will be talking with police and the district attorney’s office to explain the circumstances that caused him to commit the robberies and kidnappings.
Details of the crimes
The crimes were all carried out after dark by a man the victims described as armed with a handgun. In several of the incidents, the man approached women who were standing near vehicles in their driveways and forced them to drive to an ATM in their own vehicles and withdraw cash before driving them back home. In two cases, the man later abandoned the victims’ vehicles in the neighborhoods where they live.
In three of the robberies, the bandit’s face was obscured by a black motorcycle helmet with a full-face shield or an orange and yellow zip-up jacket.
In the final case, an attempted robbery outside a home on Wynneford Way, the gunman wore a 3-D mask that he removed as he was leaving, officers said. Sheriff’s deputies who investigated the incident were able to lift fingerprints from inside the home where the man forced the woman upstairs and riffled through a jewelry box in a bedroom.
Johnson was arrested Oct. 11 during a traffic stop on Glenwood Avenue after investigators received a tip from someone who apparently knew him. The tipster told police about items at Johnson’s home that matched the descriptions of items taken during the robberies. The tipster told investigators that Johnson “has recently been in possession of jewelry, large amounts of U.S. currency, televisions and computers.”
Johnson pleaded guilty to nine counts of common law robbery, one count of attempted common law robbery, three counts of first-degree burglary, three counts of second-degree burglary, one count of first-degree burglary, one count of extortion, one count of assault by strangulation, three counts of larceny of a motor vehicle, one count of larceny of a firearm and one count of possession of stolen property.
Johnson remained in the Wake County jail Thursday with bail set at $4 million, a jail spokeswoman said.