CONYERS -- The man sentenced to life in prison this summer for an armed robbery conviction has requested DNA testing, a request that may play a big role in his appeal.
Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation sentenced 22-year-old Nathan Christopher Dwight of Conyers to life plus five years in prison in July after a jury found Dwight guilty of armed robbery, three counts of aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of crime. The crime occurred in August 2009 when Dwight robbed Hispanic grocery store Bella Vista 2, located at 1373 Iris Drive, at gunpoint in a disguise of dark sunglasses and a Jamaican-styled knit hat with fake dreadlocks.
The District Attorney's Office recommended 40 years with 35 to be served in confinement and the defense asked for 35 years, 10 to be served in jail.
The life sentence was designed to act as a deterrent to other crimes in the community. Nation said during the July sentencing hearing that there were 33 armed robberies in the last year in Rockdale County and "this foolishness is going to stop."
Since the sentencing, Dwight has appealed the ruling and also requested another lawyer. Public Defender Daniel Partain represented him throughout the trial.
Local attorney Albert Myers became Dwight's new court-appointed lawyer in September. Myers requested to have DNA testing done on a white T-shirt the state used as evidence. Nation signed the order Nov. 18. The same day, the judge signed an emergency motion from the defense to seal records. The motion cited Rule 21 of the Uniform Superior Court Rules that limits access to public court records "under compelling circumstances."
During the four-day trial, the state presented a white T-shirt found in Dwight's car the day of his arrest. The suspect in the surveillance video wore a white T-shirt during the armed robbery and the state contended the shirt found in the back seat of Dwight's car is the same T-shirt.
Rockdale County Chief Assistant District Attorney Bob Houman did not provide details Dec. 16 on the request for DNA testing or the sealed documents.
"The case is on appeal and I'm sure the defense is going to file various motions and we'll deal with them when they file them," Houman said.
Phone calls to Myers' office were not returned.
The next court proceeding is scheduled for Jan. 6, according to court records.
Dwight's trial included sworn statements from victims who identified Dwight as the black man seen in the store's video surveillance wearing a white T-shirt, faded black jeans, sunglasses, and a Jamaican-style hat with fake dreadlocks. The man entered the store around 9:30 a.m. that day, brandished a black handgun and demanded money. The robber pushed a victim to the ground, threatened to shoot two other witnesses, and made off with an estimated $1,100 in cash.
The tag number of the robber's getaway car was identified and determined it was the same car that was carjacked from a pregnant woman in DeKalb County roughly an hour before the Bella Vista robbery. Authorities found the car near Dwight's apartment.
Dwight has maintained his innocence since his arrest and throughout the trial, declining a negotiated plea offer of 20 years, with five to be served in jail, from the District Attorney's Office. Under that negotiated plea, Dwight would have likely served two and half years in confinement with some probation time.
He remains in the Rockdale County Jail during the appeal process.