Two of three alleged Austin gas station robbers plead not guilty

Published 9:00 am Sunday, August 9, 2015

Two of the three people charged with allegedly robbing Freedom Value Center in Austin at knifepoint pleaded not guilty Thursday in Mower County District Court.

Mer Gach, 18, and Charles Morris, 20, pleaded not guilty to aggravated robbery charges. Davion Smith appeared in court Thursday but didn’t enter a plea regarding his charges.

According to a court complaint, two robbers hit the gas station, located at 101 Fourth St. NW, at about 1:30 a.m. July 21. One of the robbers, allegedly Morris, grabbed the clerk from behind and threatened to cut her with a knife if she moved. The other robber, allegedly Smith, forced the clerk to put money inside a bag before the two left.

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Witnesses told police the two men came out of a red Pontiac which drove around the area at the time of the robbery and sped north on Fifth Street Northwest after the crime.

Police found several items in the parking lot of nearby Integrity Realty, including a Brick Furniture card addressed to Smith and Gach. In addition, the clerk recognized Smith’s voice, according to the complaint.

A Brick Furniture salesperson in Albert Lea positively identified Smith, who had visited the store several days before the robbery, from police photos.

Gach was detained while driving Smith’s car, the red Pontiac, shortly after the robbery. She told Albert Lea police she and Smith spent the night at a relative’s apartment in Austin.

Though she told police Smith’s car was at the apartment the night of the robbery, police had checked the area shortly after the robbery. In addition, police confiscated her cell phone and eventually found a photo of a pile of money, including rolls of change and bills wrapped with bank bands, which was taken about an hour and a half after the robbery took place.

Morris was arrested in Albert Lea Wednesday and told police he was with his girlfriend in Rochester on July 20. He said he and his girlfriend stopped in Austin on their way home so he could use the gas station bathroom, but he denied robbing the store or spending time with Smith for the past month.

Morris’s girlfriend later told police she, Morris, Smith and Gach had hung out at Gach’s apartment in Albert Lea that night before Smith and Morris left to “hang out.” She told police she didn’t know why Morris would claim he hadn’t seen Smith in a month.

Gach was arrested on Sunday and told police she didn’t know about the robbery. She admitted she received the Brick Furniture card but said she had misplaced it in her wallet and didn’t know where she put it. She also didn’t know how the photo of money got on her phone.