Prosecutors Kim Ortiz and Michael Jette told jurors financial advisor Joshua Conway was dating former beauty queen Kumari Fulbright in the fall of 2007 when she asked him to sell jewelry given to her by Robert Ergonis, her former fiancé.
The prosecutor told jurors she later lied and told Ergonis that Conway had stolen and sold the jewelry.
Fulbright lured Conway to her apartment on Dec. 8, 2007, and Ergonis and David Radde jumped him while Fulbright was in the shower, the prosecutor said.
Conway testified Ergonis and Radde punched and kicked him and threatened him with guns at Fulbright's house and at a rental home owned by Ergonis. He told jurors the men stole cash, earrings and his car keys from him as well.
He also told jurors Fulbright struck him repeatedly, stuck a knife in his ear and bit him while Larry Hammond and Ergonis stood by with guns. He claimed Fulbright also stole his gun and other items from his vehicle.
Both Ergonis and Fulbright told him he would die in the desert that night, Conway said.
He was so terrified, Conway said he made up a story about selling the jewelry to pay off a $16,000 drug debt and offered to help them get the jewelry back.
Conway testified he managed to escape when he was left alone with Fulbright for a short period of time. He moved to Boston within two weeks for fear Ergonis, who had not yet been arrested, would find him.
Fulbright, Hammond and Radde entered plea agreements in the case, but Ergonis has been on trial the last two weeks.
After deliberating about 10 hours over three days, the jury convicted him Tuesday of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, armed robbery and aggravated robbery. They acquitted him on a second count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, choosing instead to convict him of a less serious assault charge.
Ergonis was not present for the reading of the verdicts, preferring to stay in his jail cell instead.
While the testimony of Hammond and Radde corroborated much of what Conway told jurors about being restrained, assaulted and threatened, Fulbright testified she never saw Ergonis threaten Conway or point a gun at him.
Fulbright, 28, told jurors Conway stole $50,000 worth of jewelry and the plan was simply for Ergonis, 47, to talk Conway into telling them where the jewelry was.
Conway’s version of events doesn’t make sense, defense attorney Paul Gattone said during closing arguments last week.
Fulbright knew the value of the jewelry and she certainly wouldn’t have had Conway take it to a pawnshop, where she wouldn’t get the full value, Gattone said.
Gattone made light of Conway’s story of torture and fear, saying the state offered no credible evidence of either. Hammond and Radde were both drug addicts with criminal records who made deals to “save their behinds,” Gattone said.
“I didn’t know I was representing the Godfather. He had to fly all the way across the country and he was still afraid (Ergonis) was going to come get him,” Gattone scoffed. “Where was the torture? Was he being water-boarded? He was sitting in a car with some guys,” when he told them about the drug debt.
It was Fulbright who assaulted Conway and it was Fulbright calling all of the shots; his client was simply pulled along on a leash, Gattone said.
“The question is whether Rob should be convicted and go to prison because of Kumari’s plan,” Gattone said. “Kumari Fulbright wanted this jewelry back and she was going to do what she needed to do to get it back.”
Ortiz told jurors she and Jette presented plenty of objective evidence that corroborated Conway’s story, including phone records and the testimony of a pawnshop owner who overheard Conway getting Fulbright’s OK on the sales price.
If Fulbright really did suspect Conway of stealing her jewelry, why didn’t she write about it in her diary or report it to police or an insurance company, Ortiz asked.
“She didn’t do that because she gave the jewelry to Josh,” Ortiz said. “She didn’t do it because it was a flat-out lie.”
Everything Conway told them was backed up by Radde or Hammond, Ortiz said.
Ortiz also told jurors that even if they think Fulbright or Radde performed a specific act, Ergonis is just as guilty under accomplice liability.
Both prosecutors told jurors the case was about what Ergonis did to Conway, it wasn’t about Fulbright.
“It’s about violence that’s not to be tolerated here,” Ortiz said. “Find him guilty.”
Fulbright pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping and aggravated assault. She agreed to serve two years in prison for the assault charge, followed by up to seven years' probation on the kidnapping charge.
Hammond, 42, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was placed on probation. Radde, 47, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping and to drug and weapons charges in an unrelated case. He's facing three to 12.5 years in the kidnapping case and three and 12.5 years in the other case.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or email@example.com
On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at go.azstarnet.com/courthouse