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In re T.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

September 26, 2019

In the Matter of T.L.

          On Appeal from the 323rd District Court Tarrant County, Texas Trial Court No. 323-110598-19

          Before Gabriel, Kerr, and Womack, JJ.


          Dana Womack Justice.

         I. Introduction

         This is an appeal from the juvenile court's order transferring appellant T.L. (Tom)[1] to an appropriate district court or criminal district court (criminal court) to be tried as an adult.[2] In a single issue, Tom argues that the juvenile court's decision to transfer him to a criminal court was an abuse of discretion. We disagree and will affirm the juvenile court's transfer order.

         II. Background

         The evidence presented at the May 29, 2019 transfer hearing consisted of testimony from several witnesses and multiple documentary and media exhibits. The evidence developed during the hearing revealed the following facts.

         A. Factual Background

         On September 3, 2018, Detective Daniel Koplin of the Fort Worth Police Department began investigating a robbery at a grocery store. Between September 3, 2018 and September 23, 2018, a total of nine robberies involving fifteen victims were committed at seven Fort Worth locations.

         Although some of the robbers attempted to conceal their identities, the surveillance video recordings and witness descriptions indicated that the perpetrators of the nine robberies were young individuals of Asian descent. The recordings also showed that the perpetrators of the nine robberies appeared to be the same four or five individuals based on their height, weight, and clothing and revealed the guns used and backpacks carried during the commission of the robberies.

         The robberies appeared to be preplanned and occurred quickly-in a matter of minutes. The robbers were very well-organized, with each seeming to know his exact role. Koplin explained that many convenience stores have a lock in the counter area that the store clerk can activate to prevent the exterior door from opening, and it appeared that the robbers understood this. One robber would open and hold the door to allow two to three others to enter the store with weapons-a gun and a BB gun-and would not allow the door to close during the robbery. Displaying or pointing one or both guns, the robbers would go directly to the store clerks and force them to attempt to remove money out of the cash register. During some robberies, there were as many as four victims, and one of the robbers stole a gold necklace from a store employee during the first robbery. One of the robbers awaited the others in a getaway vehicle located nearby but away from the front of the store. It appeared that the same vehicle was always used. During the last robbery, one of the robbers-not Tom-shot victim Bobby Weeks.

         Officers observed that on one surveillance video, two robbers were seen entering the store without any type of mask. After learning that a significant population of persons of Asian descent lived in a particular apartment complex near the robberies, detectives showed still images of the unmasked robbers to the apartment complex's employees. One employee identified a juvenile resident as one of the robbers. Officers spoke with that juvenile at his school, and he implicated Tom as also being involved in the robberies and advised that Tom probably had the guns. Tom also lived in the apartment complex.

         Koplin conducted a noncustodial interview of Tom at his school. Tom initially denied any involvement in the robberies, but he eventually admitted that he had held the door during the first robbery at a Texaco, had wielded the BB gun in another instance, and on September 23, 2018-the last robbery date-had driven to one of the robbery locations and had been the getaway driver after the shooting. He was also implicated by other suspects for his role in the robberies.

         Detectives obtained search warrants for several locations, including Tom's apartment. During the search of Tom's apartment, officers found items that were consistent with those seen on the surveillance videos-clothing (including the hoodie and shoes that Tom wore during some of the offenses), masks, and backpacks. One of the two backpacks found in Tom's bedroom closet contained a 9mm semiautomatic pistol, and the other backpack contained a long-barrel BB gun. These guns also appeared to match the guns that were seen on the surveillance videos.

         After conducting other interviews and observing the surveillance videos, officers determined that Tom had held the door during the first robbery, had held the BB gun during several robberies, and in one of the robberies, had wielded the 9mm semiautomatic pistol-"the real gun." The relevant information for each offense as it relates to Tom is as follows:

(1) Date: September 3, 2018
Business: Texaco
Location: 5324 Trail Lake Drive
Victims: Robert Moreland and Kapugamage Wickremaratne
Property: cash, cigars, tobacco products, gold necklace
Role: held door
(2) Date: September 9, 2018
Business: Ark. Grocery
Location: 1211 Seminary Drive
Victim: Jesus Aguiniga-Arroyo
Property: $2, 500, cigarettes, beer, sweet tea
Role: wielded BB gun
(3) Date: September 9, 2018
Business: 7-Eleven
Location: 5300 Sycamore School Road
Victim: Phillip Darden
Property: $250 cash and Darden's wallet
Role: wielded BB gun
(4) Date: September 13, 2018
Business: Quick Way
Location: 5375 Granbury Road
Victims: Gagan Budhathoki and Tesfahun Anbessie
Property: cash
Role: wielded handgun
(5) Date: September 16, 2018
Business: JW Food Store
Location: 5001 East Berry Street
Victims: Mary Dudley and Roger Carter
Property: cash and Carter's wallet
Role: participant
(6) Date: September 17, ...

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