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02-27-03: Auglaize County Man will go to prison for robbery at rest area
The Daily Standard
    A 44-year-old Lima man was sentenced Wednesday morning to a total of 33 years in prison for charges relating to an armed robbery and assault at a Wapakoneta rest area Nov. 19, 2002.
    The sentencing for Jose Rojas, 1520 S. Central Ave., followed a two-day trial last week in Auglaize County Common Pleas Court in Wapakoneta. At the trial, jurors found Rojas guilty of two counts aggravated robbery and one count each felonious assault, possessing a weapon under disability and fleeing and eluding.
    Jurors also found the native Cuban guilty of three specifications of the indictment, which accused him of possessing a firearm during the robbery at the rest area along Interstate 75. Immigration issue
    An investigation is ongoing by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to determine if Rojas is a United States citizen. If found to be in the country illegally, he could be deported.
    Law enforcement reports said Rojas brandished a loaded gun and used it to strike the head of a 56-year-old Michigan man inside a building in the rest area at 2:38 p.m. on the day of the robbery. Rojas stole the man's money clip and $323, which was later found on Rojas when he was apprehended. Rojas also threatened a caretaker at the rest area who authorities have not been able to locate since the incident.
    Rojas fled the scene and led several law enforcement agencies on a high-speed chase that ended in Lima near Rojas' home. Auglaize County Prosecutor Ed Pierce said the case was solved by excellent police work by Cridersville Police Chief John Drake, who tracked Rojas' vehicle as it came through the village after an all-points-bulletin (APB) was broadcast by authorities. Videotape from a Cridersville police cruiser was used at the trial to show the reckless nature in which Rojas traveled while fleeing police.
    "He nearly caused three head-on collisions at high rates of speed through multiple intersections," Pierce told the court, adding that Rojas illegally passed several vehicles in no-passing zones.
    Judge Frederick Pepple gave Rojas a 10-year and a six-year prison sentence for the aggravated robbery charges, which are first-degree felonies. Rojas was sentenced to eight years in prison for felonious assault, one year for possessing a weapon under disability and five years for fleeing and eluding law enforcement officers.
    Pepple ordered all the sentences to run consecutively except the firearm specifications, which will run concurrently. Pepple also ordered Rojas' operator's license revoked, a ruling Weller said would be moot.
    "He'll probably be 70 (years old) by the time he gets out of prison," Weller said.
    Rojas spoke on his own behalf and maintained his innocence.
    "I never saw it," Rojas said about the stolen money clip. "...I didn't commit this crime, I didn't."
    Two specifications charging Rojas as a repeat violent offender were pending since the trial after Rojas' court-appointed attorney Mark Weller of Wapakoneta asked Pepple for time to produce a witness in his client's defense. But at the start of Wednesday's hearing, both Weller and Pierce agreed to dismiss the specifications based on lack of evidence.
    Before sentencing, Pierce asked the court to weigh the evidence of several documents submitted. The documented information included Rojas' parole eligibility report from a conviction in Michigan; certified copies of the conviction in Michigan for breaking and entering vehicles, forgery and receiving stolen property; a report from Nevada authorities detailing Rojas convictions for attempted robbery, burglary and larsony in that state; information which questions Rojas' citizenship; and information about a specific case in which Rojas assaulted victims in Michigan. The victim
    Pierce told the court the victim at the rest area suffered injury and serious emotional damage. He also stated Rojas is prone to recidivism and has shown no remorse for his actions.
    Weller argued that, although the events that occurred were serious, "there are more serious incidents out there." He told the court it was "preposterous" to impose the maximum sentence on any of the charges because the whole incident occurred in a matter of a few seconds.
    Weller told the court at the conclusion of the sentencing, that Rojas intends to appeal his conviction. After Weller stated he did not wish to represent Rojas in the appeal, Pepple agreed to request a state public defender for Rojas.
    Before exiting the courtroom, Pepple left Rojas with one last thought.
    "Mr. Rojas you say you're guilty of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I think you were at the right place to be caught, but I'm not going to opinionate," Pepple said. "The sentence itself should speak loudly enough."


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