One brother has done well and continues to take advantage of the opportunity that a Criminal Court judge granted him in May. The other brother failed miserably and now is paying the price.
Justin Allen Roberts, 20, Elmo Dr., had his probation revoked, despite an impassioned plea from his court-appointed attorney, Jeff Vires, and was ordered to serve the balance of his six-year prison sentence after failing a drug test.
It was a sad ending for all involved in the case.
Roberts, his brother Randall Tyler Roberts, 23, and James Nelson Coulter III, were charged with the June 2018 robbery of the Crossville Dollar General Store on Hwy. 127 N. All pleaded guilty.
Coulter, recognized as the ringleader of the trio, pleaded guilty last November and received a 12-year prison sentence to be served at 85 percent.
The two brothers appeared in court for a sentencing hearing in May and after an emotional proceeding, the two brothers were given a chance.
That is where Judge McKenzie found himself. It was an agonizing decision to make.
“We all have to remember these are human beings that we are dealing with,” he said.
McKenzie pointed toward Coulter as the person responsible for the robbery. He noted Coulter’s lack of respect for the system and corrections officers, the way he spoke and acted in court, and called him a “bully.”
“I have no doubt in my mind that he took the shotgun and pointed it at their heads and led them down the primrose path,” McKenzie said.
“If you had told me before I took the bench that I would be granting diversion in an armed robbery case, I would not have believed you,” McKenzie said at the time. “I am granting you the most grace,” he told the brothers.
He then ruled that both would be placed on diversion, but in exchange, extending their probation from six to eight years, and ordered the first year to be served under house arrest supervision of community corrections.
He ordered both back to court on Aug. 7 so he could monitor their progress and receive an update on how they were doing.
And then he made a promise to each of the brothers.
“I can promise you, if you are found in violation of your probation, you will go to prison,” McKenzie said.
The two were ordered to return to court for tracking of their progress in August and then the case was continued until this summer at which time McKenzie ordered both defendants be drug tested.
Tyler Roberts passed his drug test. Justin Roberts failed, testing positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine and marijuana. Tyler Roberts was congratulated and encouraged to continue his journey. Justin Roberts went straight to jail where he stayed until he had a hearing last month.
Tennessee Board of Pardons and Parole Officer Lori Neal, who supervises those under house arrest of community corrections, testified about the failed drug screens and Justin Roberts losing his job and his residence.
TBPPO Officer Christopher Goddard prepared the presentence report and the formula the state used lists Justin Roberts in need of alcohol, drug and mental health treatment with a emphasis placed on the drug and mental health issues.
Vires called Connie Somers from Invitation Ministries who testified she had met and worked with Justin Roberts and would recommend a year to 18-month treatment program of Adult and Teen Challenge that addresses those issues. The program has more than an 80 percent success rate.
Somers added that Roberts had expressed a desire to change his life but needed guidance and structure to do so.
Assistant District Attorney Amanda Worley told McKenzie at the latest hearing, “Everyone was rooting for the Roberts … had a courtroom full of people willing to help.” She added, “One (brother) has done well, one has not.”
Vires countered, “It is hard to come up with a legal argument (for his client’s failed drug test and actions). I was upset … he plead to a lesser charge, got grace at sentencing.”
But Vires also noted that Roberts had a “disadvantaged childhood.” He added, “Now, we all feel it was a waste of time.”
Vires argued that drugs were the only issue haunting his client. “He needs help with that … I am not asking for a second chance, just a chance to continue the process started. Justin needs to tools to succeed, the system has let him down.”
Vires noted that his client has lost diversion and by doing so, is now a convicted felon
McKenzie felt he had given Roberts all he could.
“Your brother has taken the right path and continues. Your (Justin Roberts) responsibility has kicked in … I put the sentence into effect.”