WEST CHESTER – Shawn Aldren Banks and Jabir Sims have much in common.
Both had clean criminal records, graduated high school, enrolled in Montgomery County Community College, and had dreams of bright futures, according to those who spoke about them in Common Pleas Court Thursday. Both were respectful of their elders, and helped those in need when asked.
And now, both Banks and Sims have another thing in common – identical state prison sentences of 2˝ to five years for the chilling August 2011 robbery of an East Pikeland teenager, in which the pair poured gasoline on the victim’s head and threatened to set him on fire.
Calling their crime “terrible and terrifying,” Judge David Bortner rejected the pleas of both men’s attorneys and their family members to show leniency and keep them out of state prison, and largely accepted the prosecution’s recommendation that they receive sentences of three to six years behind bars.
“This ranks right up there with a gun being put to a person’s temple and someone playing around with a trigger,” Bortner said, reflecting how emotionally traumatic the threat of physical harm had been for the victim, a former classmate of Sims at a charter school in Phoenixville.
“It easily could have resulted in the victim’s death,” Bortner said.
At their back-to-back sentencing hearings Thursday, both Banks, 21, of Philadelphia, and Sims, 20, of Norristown, expressed remorse for their crime, which was committed in an attempt to gain some revenge on the victim for having sold Sims marijuana that he thought was of less than average quality. In the robbery, the pair took marijuana from the victim, as well as various electronic devices, a laptop computer, and loose cash from his home.
Sims, who was sentenced first, said the crime was “not in my character. I just made a mistake.” He blamed his use of drugs and hanging out with “the wrong people” for his behavior. Sims pleaded guilty to the crime in March after having cooperated with police after the victim identified him.
Sims’ mother, Roslyn Sims, expressed her remorse to the father of the victim, who was in the courtroom and spoke of his son’s trauma.
“This is just not what my child would normally do,” she said.
Banks, more talkative than Sims, said he had been planning to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard after completing courses at a community college, so that he could help save people who were in danger.
“It is out of character for me to act like this,” he said. “But I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Both Banks and Sims apologized to their victim.
First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone, who handled the sentencing, told Bortner that his recommendation of a sentence of three to six years was actually less than what his office could have asked for, because of the extreme nature of the case and possibility for physical harm to the victim, who was 17 years old at the time of the robbery.
But he noted that both had admitted to their role in the crime, not making the victim testify in court, and had no previous criminal history.
According to an arrest affidavit prepared by East Pikeland police officer Joseph Heyman, the victim’s father, Wayne Wier, called police on Aug. 5 to report that his son, Jason Wier, had been robbed at their Durham Court home about 2:30 p.m. that day.
The victim was able to identify Sims as one of the robbers, since they had attended Phoenixville’s Renaissance High School together, but only knew the other man as “Mike.”
He said Sims and “Mike” came to the house because Sims was upset marijuana the youth had sold him some days before was not as high quality as he had been promised. The teen said he had agreed to sell Sims more marijuana and add some pills to the transaction.
After he weighed the marijuana and gave Sims the pills, the pair said they would go outside to get money for the buy. However, when they returned, Sims and Banks forced their way back into the house, with Sims pinning the youth against a kitchen wall. Banks took a bottle and poured gasoline from it over the youth’s head, and then threatened him with the lighter, court records indicate.
Police were able to identify those involved in the case after obtaining a surveillance video from a Wawa on Nutt Road in Phoenixville. On it, they saw Sims, his girlfriend, Jennifer Cox, 19, of Norristown, and Banks enter the store about 2 p.m. on Aug. 5. Cox purchased a soda and gave the empty bottle to Banks, who then filled it with gasoline.
Wayne Wier, addressing Bortner, said his son was not able to attend the sentencing hearing because he is in college and taking a full course load, but also because he was still terrified of the men who assaulted him. He does not like to leave the family’s home alone, and has panic attacks because he thinks he remains a target.
“He lives in constant fear,” Wier said. “I wouldn’t want to live my life in the fear that he has.” It will be with him, “for the rest of his life.”
Cox, who stood outside Wier’s home during the robbery, was sentenced earlier to 11˝ to 23 months in Chester County Prison.