ROCK HILL — The husband of a Rock Hill woman convicted of armed robbery two years ago has asked a civil rights activist to gain her release from prison.
John Barnette, founder of True Healing Under God (THUG), a Charlotte-based civil rights group, said he will provide the family of Connie Dumas with access to lawyers who will file an appeal or seek post-conviction relief, a process that allows a convicted person to prove that their trial was unfair.
In 2011, a jury found Connie Dumas, 43, guilty of armed robbery and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. She was sentenced to 18 years, which she is currently serving at the state Department of Corrections.
She was tried twice. A judge declared a mistrial after the jury deadlocked because one juror refused to convict Dumas, said E.B. Springs, the assistant 16th Circuit Solicitor who prosecuted Dumas.
Two months later, a second jury found her guilty.
A year earlier, police arrested Connie Dumas after they say she walked into the One Stop convenience store on Albright Road and pointed a handgun at the clerk, demanding cash.
Before going to the store, authorities say Connie Dumas went to the Family Trust Credit Union on Albright Road and admitted in a police statement that she had the gun when she walked into the bank, according to court documents.
We think she wanted to rob the bank, but chickened out, Springs said.
When she went to the store, the Dumas approached the counter, and, according to police, held a gun to the clerks face and asked for money. The clerk asked Dumas if she was serious.
She replied yes she was, the documents state.
The clerk took the cash drawer out of the register and set it on the counter. Police said Dumas told the clerk she saw her with a money drop in her hand and wanted that, as well.
The clerk handed Dumas the envelope with about $60 cash, and the cash drawer filled with $34, court documents show. Dumas left the store and walked into the parking lot, where Springs said she passed a witness who saw her with a gun in one hand and a wad of cash in the other.
That witness wrote down Dumas car tag number and called police, he said.
So did the clerk who, on a 911 call, told police, We were just robbed.
The man in the parking lot gave police a description of the car and Dumas. Police began searching for the car, while Springs said Dumas returned to her Robertson Road home and picked up her daughter.
Police stopped Dumas on Neely Road and found cash in the car door and money in her daughters purse, including a $2 bill with the stores stamp on it, police documents show. She was arrested and charged.
Police searched her home and found a gun in a plastic bag in her closet and a pair of sunglasses authorities say she wore during the robbery in her kitchen.
Bursha Dumas, her husband, tells the story differently. He said his wife told him she went into the store and asked the clerk for change for a $100 bill.
The clerk told her she would have to buy something, so Connie Dumas grabbed ice cream and water. The clerk then gave her change for a $20.
(Connie Dumas) said No, I didnt give you a $20, I gave you $100, Bursha Dumas said. They got into a little argument about it.
The clerk took $80 cash from the register, Bursha Dumas said his wife claims. Connie Dumas told her, thats my change for my $100 and snatched the money out of the womans hands before walking out of the store.
She went home, picked up the couples 17-year-old daughter and left to go to the store. Police surrounded the car, handcuffed Connie Dumas and their daughter, Bursha Dumas said, and took them to the police station.
In a signed affidavit, Connie Dumas told police she left her house and put a handgun in the waistband of her pants. She went into the One Stop store, held the gun at the clerk and left with $94.
I told the clerk I was sorry, the statement reads. I needed the money because they were foreclosing on our house. We were broke and my daughter needed to go school shopping and I did not have any money. I am not sure how much money I got, but I gave the money to my daughter and she put it in her purse when I got home.
Bursha Dumas denies the validity of the statement, saying that his wife told him she was intimidated by officers who warned her somebody was going to do time for the robbery. If she didnt confess to the robbery, Bursha Dumas said, police threatened to lock up the couples daughter.
He also said his wife claims she did not know what she was signing, but was instructed to sign the document, typed and phrased by a police officer.
Bursha Dumas, who said he worked for a Ohio Sheriffs Office for four years, does not believe his wife would walk into a store with a gun.
She knows what I know, he said. She knows she had no reason for it.
Barnette called Connie Dumas sentence extreme and unnecessary.
She didnt shoot anyone, he said, and she had no prior record, aside from traffic convictions. Court records show that Connie Dumas worked at Toys-R-Us in Pineville and attended Winthrop University.
Barnette said his lawyers will likely file another appeal on Connie Dumas behalf, though he added the process can take years.
After she was found guilty in 2011, Connie Dumas then-lawyer Michael Atwater filed an appeal, arguing that the court failed to suppress statements gathered after inadequate Miranda warnings, and the jury should have been charged to deliberate on a common law robbery charge, not armed robbery.
The state Court of Appeals denied her request in May this year.
If a second appeal wont work, Barnette said he will encourage Connie Dumas to apply for post-conviction relief.
During a post-conviction relief hearing, the defendant can hire new attorneys and present new evidence. A judge can order a new trial, modify the sentence or uphold the original sentence.
Our lawyers will see what our options are, Barnette said. Part of our job is exposure. We feel the need to do the rallies. To me, exposure helps.
He said Connie Dumas family is sure shes innocent and the sentence too hefty. He said he plans to go off that energy.
Since his wifes conviction, Bursha Dumas said hes raised their three children two girls, 20 and 18, and one boy, 14 alone and is just now returning to work.
Their oldest daughter, with her mother during her arrest, is dealing with it the worst, he said. Shes been remembering it. She thinks about it.
Visits with his wife are difficult. She laments that shes missed holidays, such as Christmas, with her family and both her daughters proms and graduations.
She said, Im their mother; Im supposed to be there to get them ready for Prom and graduation and I wasnt there for either one of them, he said.
I want her home, he added. Thats way too much time. If she did do that, for $80, thats way too much time.
Jonathan • McFadden 803-329-4082