Grand Jury Produces Felony Charges in Gibson’s Case

Louis Krauss, News Editor

The three students involved in November’s altercation at Gibson’s Bakery have received robbery felony charges in the aftermath of last Wednesday’s grand jury hearing.

College sophomores Cecelia Whettstone and Endia Lawrence were originally charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly attacking Gibson’s employee Allyn Gibson, as he and College sophomore Elijah Aladin were involved in an initial altercation that spilled outside after Aladin allegedly attempted to shoplift two bottles of wine. However, all three students were charged with robbery after grand jury members concluded that evidence suggests Whettstone and Lawrence had prior knowledge that Aladin would attempt to steal from the store.

“They are charged under a theory that they either acted in concert with a common scheme or plan or were complicit to events they are charged with,” Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said. “The grand jury had to have found evidence implicating them in that fashion.”

Will conducted a three-month investigation into the Gibson’s incident, during which he contacted store employees, College administrators and Oberlin police officers to assemble an extensive list of witnesses and others who had information pertaining to the altercation Nov. 9. Although most details of the grand jury hearings are confidential, Gibson’s employee Trey James said the large number of testimonies and deliberation caused the hearing to last through both Wednesday and Thursday, and featured a wide range of perspectives.

“They had more witnesses than they had seen in a long time, including students, faculty, administration from the school, as well as police members and folks from our shop, presented to a panel of impartial citizens,” James said. “They came up with the charges.”

Aside from Whettstone and Lawrence, who did not attend the hearing at the request of their attorney Jack Bradley that they use their Fifth Amendment right and not speak, Will said all who were contacted for the investigation attended the hearing, as is required by law.

Even though James thought the hearing was successful in presenting all the evidence, he added that employees do not want the students to receive the maximum penalty for robbery of three to five years in prison.

“The maximum amount of time that can be ascribed to the charges brought is not something we’re interested in seeing the students serve,” James said. “There’s no way the kids should be in jail for three years based on those charges. That’s the maximum that can be allowed. We’re hoping the sentences won’t be as severe.”

For some students, the upped charges for Lawrence and Whettstone came as a surprise. College junior Angie Vaaler, who witnessed part of the fighting between Gibson and the students, thought the new indictments were unfair.

“It seemed like the fight was happening between the employee and [Aladin], and I remember one of the students on the sidewalk telling me that the two girls were trying to get the employee off of Elijah,” Vaaler wrote in an email to the Review. “I think the indictments are incredibly unfair.”

Vaaler, who was not contacted about the grand jury hearing, said she was unsure if the increased charges were influenced by subsequent student protests that surrounded Gibson’s for over a day but thought those opposing the protests were missing the larger point.

“I understand the frustration that local, small business owners have with shoplifting, but I think the protests were addressing the treatment of Elijah and past experiences of discrimination at the hands of Gibson’s employees,” Vaaler said.

Although grand jury hearings often consist of no more than one or two witness testimonies, Will said there was a need to bring in more voices, partly because the incident garnered a lot of media attention.

“In instances like this when you have a multitude of opinions and you have a lot of public relations or press issues that have been put out there by other people, I think it’s important that the grand jury hear first-hand from everybody, and they can make their own determination,” Will said.

College juniors Andy Goelzer and Andrés González, who witnessed the incident and were subsequently interviewed by police, declined to say whether they were brought in to testify or comment on the new indictments. Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo also declined to comment.

Now, the three students’ attorneys will have to decide whether they want to hold one trial or separate ones for the burglary charges, after which a preliminary trial date will be decided.