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Monday, Oct 20, 2014

Robbers sentenced for 2011 violent crime spree

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— Nearly three years after collaborating on a string of violent early morning robberies, all four people who were charged in connection with the spree have been sentenced.

Kimberly Shawley, 23, and Tavarus Cooper, 24, were sentenced Friday for their roles in six robberies between 2 and 5:40 a.m. July 30, 2011.

Cooper, charged with six counts of robbery and one of kidnapping, received a life sentence, as required by state law.

Shawley, who has a young son, was found guilty on four charges of robbery and possession of the prescription painkiller Carisoprodol and received a 10-year sentence. The other two suspects, Tracy Dixon and Arthur White-Benjamin, both 24, each were charged with six counts of robbery, one of kidnapping and one of grand theft of a motor vehicle. White-Benjamin pleaded guilty last year and received 30 years, while Dixon went to trial and received a life sentence after being found guilty.

Court documents say the four drove around in a red Mazda 3 looking for potential victims, targeting Mexicans because they are less likely to report a crime, something Circuit Court Judge Federico, who presided over the case, called “unconscionable” and “cynical.”

Shawley is said to have distracted the victims long enough for Dixon and White-Benjamin to approach unseen, disguising their faces with bandannas and brandishing handguns. The two would terrorize the victims and make off with their money and devices.

In separate hearings, Shawley and Cooper each stood before Federico.

In Cooper’s case, Federico said his hands essentially were tied because of a state statute requiring a life sentence for certain felonies. Cooper’s mother asked for a lighter sentence and told the judge her son has had a long history of mental health issues. Cooper’s attorney argued for a 30-year sentence and said Cooper deserved less time because of his psychological problems, and that he hadn’t handled a gun during the robberies.

Shawley’s mother addressed the judge, vouching for her daughter’s improved character. A volunteer who offers religious counseling at the jail where Shawley had been since her arrest in early August 2011 also attested to her improved character and a budding sense of remorse.

Shawley, who in at least one case posed as a prostitute to attract a victim, sobbed as she begged Federico to ease her punishment, if not let her go completely.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself since I’ve been in this jail and I took a lot for granted,” she said. “I won’t let my mom down, my son down, the court down.”

Federico said no level of rehabilitation would erase her deeds.

“You can’t just click your heels together and say ‘I’m sorry’ given the circumstances,” he said.

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7999

Twitter: @kbradshawTBO

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