Savannah taxi robber freed after alleged victim skips court - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Savannah taxi robber freed after alleged victim skips court

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

A Savannah robber went free Thursday, and the man thought to be his victim was arrested.

Charles Rice, 49, had a charge reduced from armed robbery to robbery and other charges dropped in Chatham County Superior Court after a taxi driver police say Rice robbed didn't show up for court.

Because of a prior criminal record dating back 30 years Rice, who calls himself a "sovereign citizen" of the United States, had been facing life behind bars.

Instead, he was given credit for time served and 10 years probation in a negotiated plea deal.
Police suspected Rice in a string of 2011 taxi robberies. He was charged with two of those crimes.

With limited physical evidence, prosecutors offered the deal because they feared losing a case based almost solely on the eyewitness testimony of one victim. They said testimony from a second victim, the man who didn't show up for court, was critical to the case.

That victim's name is Jamil Gibbons. Prosecutors had forced him to fly to Savannah from Louisiana, using the threat of arrest. He discussed the case with detectives and prosecutors Wednesday.

Thursday morning, no one could find Gibbons. His cell phone went directly to voicemail. A new warrant was issued for his arrest.

"I don't know why he didn't show," Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap said. "We don't like to do it. We are not in the business of arresting victims."

By the time Gibbons showed up, it was too late. Rice had already struck that plea.

Gibbons was arrested for failing to appear in court.

Rice rode home in a taxi Thursday afternoon.

"I'm an Israelite," Rice said. "I pray to Yahweh. And I got on my knees last night and asked him for favor."

Rice had intended to represent himself in the case but relented and allowed a public defender to help him. Rice identifies with the sovereign citizen movement, a loosely-affiliated group who believe themselves free of the constraints of U.S. law.

"A private citizen in United States Jurisdiction," Rice said.

He described his arrest as police "kidnapping" and "abducting" him.

The District Attorney is making a push to get cases like this Rice's -- now three years old -- though the court system more quickly.

"If it's swifter, people feel safe to come forward," she said.

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