Three men who are in custody face a total of 36 counts of armed robbery after church goers were robbed during a Sunday service at an East St. Louis church.
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly announced the charges Friday afternoon at the St. Clair County Building. Charged are 17-year-old Howard Dotson Jr., 19-year-old Rufus Thomas Jr. and 20-year-old Kenneth Walton IV, each of East St. Louis. The three men face charges stemming from a Jan. 27 armed robbery at Ira Grove Freewill Baptist Church at 1701 Belmont in East St. Louis. Each suspect faces 12 counts of armed robbery. They are each being held in lieu of $2 million bail.
The men entered the church as 50 to 75 people were attending a service. One of the men held a gun to the minister's head and ordered the congregation to the floor. Kelly said 12 victims had cash, wallets, rings and cell phones stolen.
Dotson, Walton and Thomas were each charged with one count of obstruction of justice. Thomas was also charged with unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and also with possession of a stolen vehicle from Madison County.
During the investigation, police were led to two other suspects in other unrelated crimes. Simone Foster, a 25-year-old Alorton woman, was charged with one count of obstruction of justice. East St. Louis man Deondre Spates, 22, was charged with one count of armed robbery that is connected to this investigation that allegedly took place at the AutoZone store in East St. Louis. Both Foster and Spates are in custody. Spates' bail has been set at $100,000 and Foster's bail has been set at $35,000.
Kelly thanked the Belleville Police Department and the Greater St. Louis Major Case Squad for the assistance they provided in the investigation. The Major Case Squad is usually called in for homicides and kidnappings, but Kelly said a shortage in manpower forced the call for more help.
"This is a lot of work that was done in a very short time," Kelly said. "I think that there's a few lessons to be gleaned from this, things that are obvious for us. We don't have nearly enough, not close to enough, police officers in the metro-east. It was necessary to call in the Major Case Squad because of the size of this case and the number of people involved in this case. As you can see, a large amount of manpower was devoted to this."
East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Floore also thanked the Major Case Squad for its support. He said the nature of the crime was shocking.
"When this incident happened, I was really dumbfounded about it to believe that somebody would have the audacity to go in a church and rob a church," Floore said. "It kind of touched me when it happened."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.