`Best friends’ pulled off series of armed robberies, says prosecutor
By Kelly Wheeler, City News Service
Two best friends who liked to party pulled off a series of armed robberies throughout California last year, including one they thought would bring them $250,000 from Barona Casino, a prosecutor said Friday.
Robert Chavira, 41, and Ryan Alan McKnight, 35, are charged with 27 counts, including multiple counts of robbery, as well as arson, conspiracy, false imprisonment, and assault with a deadly weapon.
In her closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Kristie Nikoletich told a jury that the defendants armed themselves and wore ski masks and body armor when pulling off the robberies between August and November of last year, taking Rolex watches, expensive jewelry and cash.
“They wanted to live a big life,” Nikoletich said. “They were a team.”
The prosecutor said the defendants liked girls, cars and nice clothes.
McKnight even gave his girlfriend a stolen $12,000 ring, the prosecutor said.
Most of the robberies were well-planned and were done in two minutes, with Chavira being the brains of the organization, Nikoletich said.
“When they went in, they knew what they were doing,” the prosecutor said.
The defendants would use a stolen car during the heists, then dump that car and drive away in another vehicle, according to Nikoletich.
One victim ordered to the ground at gunpoint said “I laid on the ground and I waited to die,” the prosecutor told the jury.
On Aug. 2, 2011, the armed defendants used sledgehammers to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of watches from a Costa Mesa store, the prosecutor said.
A month later, they allegedly drove down a walkway at the Fashion Valley mall and used sledgehammers to break display cases and steal high-end Rolex watches from the Ben Bridge store.
Chavira and McKnight are accused of using the same tactic to steal Rolex watches from a high-end jewelry store in San Jose on Oct. 15, 2011.
On Oct. 24, 2011, the defendants broke into a store and stole seven long-armed rifles, which were used in upcoming robberies, according to Nikoletich.
Two days later, the defendants — armed and wearing masks — allegedly stole more than $1 million in Rolex watches from a store in Palm Desert.
The defendants allegedly stole about $10,000 from a glass case at the Barona Casino on Nov. 2, 2011, but were hoping to get $250,000, Nikoletich said.
The defendants set fire to a house next to the casino to draw authorities away from the business, the prosecutor alleged. She said Chavira and McKnight tied a chain to the back of a vehicle and ripped out a glass case containing the cash.
When the defendants were arrested a week later, gear used to commit robberies was found in their hotel room, along with jewelry and cash taken from some of the robberies, Nikoletich said.
McKnight testified during the trial that Chavira had nothing to do with the armed robberies.
Attorneys for both defendants were scheduled to give their closing arguments Monday.
- Pair charged in Barona, Fashion Valley robberies
- Suspects in Barona Casino robbery scheduled to be arraigned today
- Suspects in Barona Casino theft face additional charges
- Police recover more than $1 million in stolen watches
- Two arrested in jewelry heist suspected of Barona Casino robbery
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