Guilty plea for habitual felonPublished 8:49pm Monday, June 23, 2014
A charge of possession with intent to sell crack-cocaine, compounded by a habitual felon charge, landed an Oxford man in prison for a minimum of 51 months in Beaufort County Superior Court on Monday.
The state dismissed five other charges against Lawrence Royster, 28, as part of the plea agreement.
As Sermons led Royster through a series of questions required to determine whether Royster understood and voluntarily accepted the plea agreement, Royster commented that his lawyer, John Bramble, had told him he would lose if the case went to trial.
“I was told that if I did not plead guilty, I would lose in the trial anyway,” Royster said.
The comment led to an exchange in which Sermons established that Bramble was simply doing his job by advising Royster that the strength of the evidence against him did not bode well for a trial. Had Royster asked for a trial, testifying for himself would have allowed prosecuting lawyers to bring up his prior convictions. Not testifying on his own behalf would mean the only testimonial evidence given to the jury would be from the state’s witnesses.
Royster was arrested with Jamal Royster and Angel Trevino on April 3, 2012, after Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office drug unit investigators made a controlled buy of cocaine from the three men and followed them to numerous Washington locations where drugs were bought and sold, according to Assistant District Attorney Chad Stoop. The men were staying at Days Inn in Washington, but all three denied renting the room that hotel management said was in Lawrence Royster’s name, Stoop said. When investigators searched the three men, money used in the controlled buys by investigators was found. When investigators searched the room, drugs were found in the room — drugs that later tested positive at the SBI state lab as crack-cocaine.
Monday, Sermons pressed Royster to make a decision as to whether he wanted to continue the process of pleading guilty or go to trial.
“You have the absolute right to have 12 people here,” Sermons said, referring to the empty jury box. “We’ve got them coming in. We could do it this afternoon.”
Royster pleaded guilty to the possession charge and the charge of habitual felon, based on several past Granville County convictions including common law robbery, possession of a stolen firearm and the possession with intent to sell cocaine. He was sentenced to a minimum of 51 months, maximum 74 months, in the North Carolina Department of Correction. The two years Royster was in jail before the guilty plea will be credited as time served.