Suspect who killed himself during robbery did 30 years for murder
WOODBURY, Minn. -- A suspect who took his own life during an armed robbery in June was a convicted murderer whose associates spent weeks casing a Woodbury jewelry store, according to information made public in a search warrant.
The warrant lays out more details surrounding events leading up to the June 21 robbery at Johnson Jewelers, where the suspect shot himself in the back of the building after seeing a police officer just outside the store.
Erick Larkins, 47, of Minneapolis, was later charged with being an accomplice in the robbery.
Prosecutors allege that Larkins drove the gunman, Thomas Eric Jones, 54, to the Seasons Market shopping center. According to the complaint, Larkins got out and twice walked past the jewelry store’s showroom window. When he returned to his car, Jones got out, entered the store and brandished a loaded handgun while making jewelry store workers fill a bag with diamonds, according to witness accounts.
In the middle of the robbery, a Johnson Jewelers worker flagged down a Woodbury police officer who happened to be in the area. Jones rushed to the back of the store and shot himself after making eye contact with the officer.
According to information in the warrant, Jones was released after serving 30 years in prison on an Illinois murder conviction. Washington County prosecutors confirmed that Jones was convicted of murder in 1981 and released in 2011 after serving time in Joliet, Ill.
Other revelations described in the warrant include statements from Johnson Jewelers staff who had seen a man in a wheelchair – later identified as an acquaintance of Jones – who visited the store at least three times before the robbery. The man was “almost exclusively interested in the showcase with the most expensive diamond jewelry,” the warrant states.
Phone records retrieved by police establish a series of calls made among Jones, Larkins and the wheelchair-bound man that they say contradicts Larkins’ claim that he didn’t know the wheelchair-bound man and was only a casual acquaintance of Jones.
“Further investigation … determined that Larkins and Thomas Jones were much more than acquaintances and Larkins would visit Jones’ home regularly with (the wheelchair-bound man),” the warrant states.
Video surveillance from the store on June 2 revealed images of a man identified as Jones appearing to talk on a cellphone, but his use of the device seemed suspicious to investigators who reviewed the video.
“The body language and placement of the phone indicated to detectives that this visit to the store was to obtain a cellphone video tape image of the store,” the warrant states, adding that the man identified as Jones made no purchases.
Video footage from nearby Holiday Station showed the man identified as Jones enter a minivan parked at Holiday also occupied by the man in the wheelchair.
The warrant says the woman who drove the minivan said she had taken the wheelchair-bound man and Larkins to the jewelry store on a separate occasion leading up to the robbery. Larkins was focused on the jewelry case as well, the warrant states.
All told, the wheelchair-bound man visited Johnson Jewelers six times to examine the jewelry case, the warrant states.
So far, only Larkins has been charged, though Assistant Washington County Attorney Imran Ali said “other individuals are still under investigation.”
Larkins’ next court appointment is set for Thursday. The case was set for an Oct. 20 jury trial.