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Video: Man on trial for murder denies involvement

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

Maurice Robinson denies he was in on a plan in 2012 to rob and kill Z&H Mart store owner Hecham Abualeinan, according to his video recorded statements to law enforcement.

Robinson, 37, is on trial for first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon. Prosecutors say although the Rowan County man did not pull the trigger, he was the one who planned and manipulated two others into executing the crime.

Christopher Watson, 26, pleaded guilty in 2015 to robbing and shooting Abualeinan. He is scheduled to testify against Robinson, who at one point regularly provided Watson with crack cocaine. Kevin Canzator, 23, also pleaded guilty in 2015 to second-degree murder and three counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon. Canzator, who is Robinson’s cousin by marriage, will also testify against Robinson.

Jurors listened Friday to a videotaped police interview of Ashley Bentley, the ex-girlfriend of Maurice Robinson. In the video, Bentley repeatedly tried to convince her boyfriend to tell investigators what he knew of the crime.

Robinson repeatedly said in the video he didn’t know what Watson was doing inside the store. He blamed Watson’s unpredictable behavior on him being addicted to crack cocaine. After a bit of back and forth, Robinson finally admits in the video he and Canzator went to the store to “buy Now & Later” candy.

Robinson, who is partially blind, blamed his failed eyesight on not being able to see Christopher Watson go inside the store.

“He went in 10 seconds after you did,” Rowan Sheriff’s Detective Jason Owens can be heard saying on the tape.

The night of Dec. 10, Robinson and Canzator went into Z&H Mart, on Mooresville Road, pretended to be customers and just seconds after the two walked out, Watson walked in wearing a Halloween mask and carrying a handgun.

Watson fired a warning shot into the air, but shot Abualeinan after the man reached for the telephone. Earlier court testimony revealed Abualeinan begged Watson to leave because his family was in the back. The family lived in an apartment attached to the back of the store. Abualeinan’s daughter, Zina, and wife, Maisa, testified they rushed into the store and found Hecham on the floor.

Prior to the Z&H Mart robbery, the three went to Neighborhood Market on West Horah Street, where Watson donned a Halloween mask and gun. He walked into the store and came out with cash. In the second robbery there, Canzator pretended to be a customer.

Court testimony Friday morning centered mostly on the conflicting statements of Ashley Bentley, Robinson’s ex-girlfriend.

Bentley testified Thursday about the tumultuous relationship between her and Robinson. She said he was physically and verbally abusive toward her.

Wilkes County Attorney Jay Vannoy, who is also representing Robinson, asked Bentley why she told the court about Robinson’s violent behavior but never told detectives. Vannoy asked if it had anything to do with her plea bargain with the state. Salisbury attorney Darrin Jordan is also representing Robinson.

She told the court she didn’t tell police her boyfriend was abusive because she was scared and he was sitting right beside her.

Bentley was initially charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, which was reduced to accessory after the fact of robbery. She drove Watson to and from one of the robberies and she was aware of the Z&H Mart robbery. She was given 18 months of probation. She agreed to testify against Robinson.

She also told detectives she was scared of Watson, but said in court Friday morning she was scared of both Watson and Robinson.

She said in a statement to law enforcement the three intended to rob the Z&H Mart because Canzator needed money. In court, Bentley said they all needed money.

Robinson was adamant during the law enforcement video he had nothing to do with the crime saying he was “not going to go down for nobody.”

He was willing to set Watson up to be picked up by authorities. He told detectives if they let him call Watson he’d get Watson to where ever they needed him. He and Ashley Bentley, along with Watson, drove toward Walmart and authorities arrested Watson.

The trial is expected to continue through next week.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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