The Big Score

A roving band of young men took to the streets of Montrose, committing more than 20 armed robberies in one week, police say. One guy was shot. No one was killed. A lot of people were terrified. Most times, the robbers' "loot" was a couple of bucks.

Billie Marie's niece whispers to her that Long is the man who wants to keep Montreal locked up.

Billie Marie looks crushed; Long seemed so nice.

The boys are each charged with one count of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Right now the state isn't making any offers or cutting any deals. Except for Kendrell, the boys are being held without bond while Long tries to figure out what role each of the suspects played in the robberies. Each boy has given a different story. Kendrell said he spent the afternoon hanging out with Montreal, but Montreal said he was hanging out at the Fiesta by himself when the three boys picked him up and said they would give him a lift to a party. Both of the boys in the backseat say they didn't know what was going on and they didn't touch the gun.

When the robbers shot Hjalmar Sundeen, Hjalmar shot back.
Deron Neblett
When the robbers shot Hjalmar Sundeen, Hjalmar shot back.
When the robbers shot Hjalmar Sundeen, Hjalmar shot back.
Deron Neblett
When the robbers shot Hjalmar Sundeen, Hjalmar shot back.

Their stories don't match, and Clinton doesn't believe any of them. "The way I picture it was they all took turns," Clinton says. "But that's yet to be proven." The detectives are meeting with the D.A. to go over the more than 20 incident reports the officers believe are related to the case. Calls keep coming in. After Hjalmar's wife appeared on the television news, the police received 15 phone calls from people who said they had been robbed too, says Sergeant Anthony Jammer. Not everyone called 911 after they were held up.

Jermaine was positively identified as the driver of the car in a police lineup. Ray Ray has yet to give a statement. "It looks like a bunch of inexperienced boys who got in over their heads," says his lawyer, Curry.

The suspects face anywhere from five years to life in prison, Long says. "If you're going to do a robbery -- if you're doing it for the money -- this is not the type of robbery you want to do," Clinton says. "This holds the same jail time as robbing a bank. Their future is pretty much ruined. Nobody wants to hire an ex-con that's been in prison for aggravated robbery."

Two hours go by, and Billie Marie's lawyer still hasn't shown up. Ray Ray's lawyer has already left, and the others are reading through the case file taking notes. Long notices that Billie Marie's still sitting there. The tears still haven't fallen down her cheeks; they sit below her lashes. He tells her Montreal's lawyer is stuck in a trial in Conroe and the hearing is rescheduled for January.

She doesn't get to see Montreal today. Walking out of the courtroom, Billie Marie's niece tells her she'll take her to visit Montreal on Saturday. Billie Marie nods gratefully.

"I can't believe he has to spend another month in there," she says. "Pray for him."

Hjalmar's cheek looks like he has a baseball-sized wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth. His face never stops hurting. "It's a dead, dreadful ache," he says. The surgeons had to wait four days before they could remove the bullet. They put a steel plate in his jaw and inserted hinges to hold the top and bottom of his head together. In a few months they plan to transplant bone from his leg into his jaw.

At work he feels dizzy and can smoke only a third of his cigarettes. His jaws are wired together, so he drinks all his meals through a straw; he's lost 14 pounds already. His face is so swollen and sore that shaving last week took him two hours. The razor blade felt like a hammer pounding into his raw nerve endings.

The next person he sees holding a handgun he's going to drop immediately. He won't hesitate.

"I wish I would have shot him and killed him," Hjalmar says. "I know he'll do it again."

Mary Jenkins opens the door wearing a leopard-print sateen nightshirt. Her two-bedroom Tuam apartment is heated by the open oven. Cans of heavy-duty starch are scattered throughout the living room and Kendrell's bedroom. "He likes to iron," she says. He ironed all his jeans and his school clothes and told his mother he wanted to join the air force. She says this past month has been a nightmare.

"My baby ain't never been in no trouble," she says. Until now. Kendrell took a bath and left the house that Sunday afternoon. She didn't ask him where he was going, and she says she doesn't know any of the boys he was arrested with. She stayed awake all night waiting for him to come home, but he didn't. She's a custodian at the federal courthouse, so she asked people she's met down there to call and see if Kendrell was in jail. That was the first place she thought to look.

On the news, she saw three boys being arrested, and one of them was wearing a red T-shirt. Kendrell had left the house in his red Michael Jordan shirt, she says. He called her later that day and asked if she knew where he was. She said yes. He swore to her that he didn't take part in any of the robberies; he said he didn't know what was going on. She wanted to know why he got into the car in the first place. He said he just wanted a ride to a party. When she visited him in jail, he broke down into tears telling her that he didn't rob or shoot anyone.

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