By Dave Russell
A former Western Carolina University student and two co-conspirators were sentenced Tuesday to prison after pleading guilty to armed robbery charges in U.S. District Court, U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced.
The three men attempted Oct. 24, 2017 to rob a rival marijuana dealer at the River Walk Apartments in Cullowhee. One of the robbers fired a shotgun round into the knee of Corey Ladarrius Alston, a WCU sophomore at the time.
The shooter, Jonathan Keenan Berkley, 22, of Charlotte, was sentenced to six years in prison; Kendrick Tyrone Davis, 22, also of Charlotte, was ordered to serve four years and three months in prison; and Sawyer Drew Doxtad, 22, of Denton, was sentenced to four years in prison.
In addition to the prison terms imposed, U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger ordered each defendant to serve three years court supervision upon completion of their prison terms, and to pay $38,258.75 in restitution.
According to court documents and the sentencing hearings, Doxtad was a WCU student during that time, living in a Sylva apartment. He sold marijuana around the university area.
Sometime in September 2017 Berkley and Davis moved into Doxtad’s apartment. According to court records, the three men dealt marijuana together.
Court documents state Doxtad and Berkley used a social media chat group called “Wheestaylit” to identify local marijuana customers.
Another marijuana dealer, identified in court documents only as J.R., used the same chat group. Court records state J.R. posted a picture of himself with multiple pounds of marijuana.
Berkley, Doxtad and Davis decided to rob J.R. of the marijuana and sell it to their own customers. According to court records, on Oct. 24, 2017, Davis and Doxtad bought a shotgun from a pawnshop to use to rob J.R.
Later that day, Doxtad and Berkley contacted J.R., pretending to be interested in purchasing marijuana. They arranged to meet at apartment 32 in the 200 building of River Walk Apartments. Berkley, Davis and Doxtad went to the apartment that evening and attempted to rob J.R. of the marijuana.
A witness inside the apartment told investigators he saw one of the men in the apartment answer a knock at the door. A man wearing a black ski mask and dark clothes came around the corner, brandishing a single barrel shotgun. A scuffle ensued, and the witness said the armed man raised the shotgun and fired across the living room, wounding Alston below the knee. The masked men fled the scene.
An unidentified person in the apartment called 911 to report the shooting, saying: “Somebody came into my friend’s apartment and shot one of my friends,” according to an audio recording.
“Do you know who it was?” the dispatcher asked.
“They came in with masks on … they ran.”
The caller said Alston was shot “right below the knee.”
Deputies from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office responded to the 911 call at about 9 p.m., finding Alston bleeding and in pain. He was transported to Mission Hospital in Asheville with non-life threatening injuries.
Alston, from Charlotte, was a sophomore majoring in political science and minoring in psychology. He was a member of WCU’s indoor and outdoor track teams.
U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for their investigation.
The case went to federal court because of Sheriff’s Office partnerships with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Sheriff Chip Hall said.
“We have deputies sworn in with both of them,” he said. “After we got to looking at this case flowing all across the Carolinas, into Charlotte and Georgia, we reached out to the ATF and asked if we could do a community impact case. They reviewed it and the U.S. attorney’s office took it as a community impact case.”
The incident occurred less than three weeks after a drug-related murder involving WCU students. On Oct. 6, 2017 Hendersonville resident Jacob Ray, 21, was fatally wounded in what court documents said was a drug-related incident. A WCU student, 19-year-old freshman Aja Makalo, of Charlotte, and a 17-year-old man, Zavion Southerland, also from Charlotte, each face a murder charge. They have been in the Jackson County Detention Center since Oct. 8, 2017 awaiting trial.