A jury has found a Georgia man guilty of first-degree burglary and first-degree aggravated theft for his role in the robbery and torture of a Rogue Valley marijuana grower.
But the jurors, after deliberating until almost midnight Thursday, acquitted Derrick Earl Shields, 28, of a string of first-, second- and third-degree assault charges and first- and second-degree robbery charges.
Members of a Columbus, Georgia-based gang allegedly flew to the Rogue Valley to join two local men in the robbery, but the prosecution has struggled to prove exactly which men took part in the 2016 brutal beating of marijuana grower James Bowman.
Eight men and a teen male have been indicted in the case, but no one has been convicted of assault so far.
Edward Molet of Georgia has pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery and first-degree burglary, court records show.
Frank William Foremski of Gold Hill has pleaded guilty to first-degree burglary and first-degree aggravated theft, according to court records.
“The challenge with this case is it was a nighttime burglary, they tied the victim up and put a pillowcase over his head. He couldn’t see,” Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Marco Boccato, who prosecuted the case against Shields, said on Friday. “What is difficult is to establish who exactly did what.”
Boccato thanked jurors for the time they devoted to the three-day trial — especially for their work on the grueling final day that lasted from morning until midnight and included closing arguments, jury deliberations and delivery of the verdict.
Shields is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday, court records show.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 16, 2016, a group of men broke into Bowman’s bedroom demanding he turn over cash from his marijuana farm near Wimer.
However, Bowman hadn’t yet sold his crop and was so short on cash he was seeking an infusion of money from outside investors. He said he kept telling the men there was no money, except for $20 in his pocket, which they took.
During about two hours of torture, the men attacked him with a butane torch, power drill, crowbar, golf club, firewood and more, then doused him with cold water and left him naked, battered and tied up in the frigid winter air.
Bowman, who was hospitalized for several days and suffered lasting physical and mental injuries, testified during the trial the men chuckled as they left him for dead.
At least six different people were captured on surveillance video at the marijuana farm.
Boccato said the robbers expected to find large quantities of marijuana and cash at the farm.
“This was a big operation and they wanted all hands on deck,” he said during closing arguments for the trial.
Boccato said the men carried out a brutal, relentless, horrendous attack on Bowman.
“It’s never going to make sense why they used so much violence and why there was so much hatred and evil directed at Mr. Bowman,” Boccato said.
Although they got little money, the men stole about 80 bins of marijuana, plants and his Subaru Outback, according to court testimony.
Boccato said the robbery might have remained unsolved except that one of the men who had rented a U-Haul truck to drive away with the stolen marijuana got stuck in a driveway and called a tow company.
One of the men also dropped a cellphone that revealed texts between the accomplices, he said.
Boccato told jurors Shields could be convicted on all the charges against him if he aided and abetted the others.
The prosecution did not have to prove he participated in any specific elements of the crime, Boccato said.
Defense attorney Zachary Light agreed with the prosecution that Shields flew from Georgia to Medford with the out-of-state men, stayed with them at a Motel 6 and drove with them to Northern California following the robbery.
Flight records and motel records showed they traveled together.
However, Light said, there was no evidence Shields actually took part in planning or carrying out the robbery and assault at the farm.
One of the other men allegedly took off his mask during the robbery and was captured on night vision surveillance video, but the others remained masked or with their hoods drawn closely around their faces, Light said.
The gloved assailants did not leave behind fingerprints, according to court testimony.
Light proposed an alternate theory that Shields had traveled to the Rogue Valley, but then backed out of the robbery scheme after realizing it was too risky.
Light said Shields could have been traveling to Northern California with the others to work on a marijuana farm there.
“Oregon doesn’t hold people guilty by association,” Light said.
Accomplice Dennis Reynolds of Pennsylvania — the man captured unmasked on surveillance video — identified the men he said were involved. He claimed to be an unwilling member of the Georgia-based gang that included his half-brother. They share the same last name.
Dennis Reynolds, who testified in Shields’ trial, still has charges pending against him.
Shields’ girlfriend testified during the trial that she had been sleeping with Dennis Reynolds but only liked him as a friend. She said Dennis Reynolds wanted more from the relationship and became angry when he found out she instead had fallen in love with Shields.
The girlfriend testified Dennis Reynolds told her he planned to blame Shields for the crime.
Light said Dennis Reynolds had many reasons to point the finger at Shields.
“He’s got motive to lie to save his skin,” Light said. “He’s got motive because he’s angry.”
Jurors were warned in instructions from the court to view the testimony of accomplices with distrust.
The jurors were also not allowed to hear Shields’ past criminal history.
In 2014 in Georgia after a shooting at an apartment complex, Shields was sentenced to eight years in prison for first-degree aggravated assault and multiple counts of first-degree criminal damage and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, according to Boccato and Georgia newspaper accounts.
Shields did not serve the full eight years, Boccato said.
“He has a violent assault history himself,” Boccato said.
In addition to Shields, Foremski, Molet and Dennis Reynolds, others indicted in the scheme to rob Bowman are Dennis Reynolds’ half-brother Jody Deville Reynolds of Georgia, Christopher Tyrone Osborne of Georgia, teenager Leonta Flowers of Georgia, Charles James Hatchett of Georgia and Daniel Dougherty of Jacksonville.
Bowman said he first got to know Foremski and Dougherty, the local men, when they posed as potential investors in his marijuana business.
Jackson County sheriff’s Detective Jason Penn said Foremski and Dougherty had a marijuana farm together in Gold Hill.
They had placed a Craigslist ad saying they wanted to invest in marijuana businesses and Bowman responded to the ad, Penn said.
Penn said opinions differ on whether Foremski and Dougherty were legitimate investors or posed as investors to gain inside information about marijuana businesses.
With no assault convictions so far, Boccato said he will continue to prosecute the pending criminal cases, but will take a step back to analyze how best to proceed.
Bowman could not be immediately reached for his reaction to the verdict in the Shields case.
— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or email@example.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.