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Serial robber accused in multi-state crime spree gets 4 years in $136K heist of Henrico jewelry store

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Smaller showers on Friday morning, but steadier rain expected Sunday.

One of two serial robbers involved in a multistate crime rampage that authorities said terrorized employees of banks, hotels, gas stations and convenience stores was sentenced to four years in federal prison for holding up Victoria Jewelers in Henrico County and taking $136,245 in jewelry, gold bars, coins and cash.

Federal prosecutors said between October and December 2021, Jesann L. Willis and her felon boyfriend, Rickley J. Senning, held up at gunpoint 15 different victims across multiple states and nine businesses in a series of robberies that ended with their arrests on Dec. 2, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The pair confessed to robbing Victoria Jewelers at 8191 Brook Road in Henrico and other crimes on the East Coast.

Rickley J. Senning and Jesann L. Willis

Willis

They were implicated in eight additional armed holdups in Maryland and Pennsylvania, including robberies of an Essex Bank in Rockville, Md.; a PNC Bank in Potomac, Md.; and an M&T Bank in Frederick, Md. Those three holdups netted the defendants more than $18,000, federal prosecutors said.

Following a sentencing hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Judge John A. Gibney Jr. sentenced Willis, 36, of Gaithersburg, Md., to 48 months in prison on her earlier guilty plea to robbery affecting commerce in the Victoria Jewelers holdup. Willis also was ordered to make restitution in the amount of $139,939.35.

In exchange for her guilty plea in June, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed not to prosecute her for the eight other robberies.

During the take-over style holdup of Victoria Jewelers, authorities said Willis and Senning removed hundreds of items from store showcases. The loot included 36 pairs of diamond rings, 117 additional rings, 220 gold bracelets, 42 pairs of gold hoops and heart earrings, five gold bars, five gold coins, 28 chains, 262 charms and $5,100 in cash.

Victoria Jewelers robbery

Authorities said this surveillance photo shows Jesann L. Willis and Rickley J. Senning robbing Victoria Jewelers at 8191 Brook Road at gunpoint of nearly $137,000 of items.

As Senning pointed the gun directly at the owner’s face, the owner’s son tried to escape. Senning then hopped over the counter and grabbed the son. While robbing the store, Senning advised the owner that he knew where he lived and would kill him if necessary, according to the government’s summary of evidence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Simon Jr. urged the court to sentence Willis within discretionary federal sentencing guidelines, which for Willis was calculated at a range of 108 to 135 months behind bars. However, the judge granted, in part, a defense motion for downward variance in Willis’ punishment that shaved 60 months off the low end of the guidelines.

Assistant Public Defender Nia Ayanna Vidal argued a variance was warranted based primarily on the significant traumas Willis faced as a youth, the effect those traumas had on her adult life, and the threats and coercion she endured by her co-defendant boyfriend, who Willis contends forced her involvement in nine armed robberies across three states.

The defense argument was supported in part by Dr. Lucy Guarnera, a clinical psychologist and University of Virginia faculty member, who conducted psychological testing on Willis and reviewed records of the defendant’s history and assessed her involvement in the crimes.

While Vidal said the egregiousness of Willis’ conduct is not in dispute, the attorney said Willis involved herself with a violent man who controlled her. He physically and sexually assaulted her constantly and continuously threatened physical harm to her, her family and other innocent people, Vidal said.

“Ms. Willis had been law abiding for all 36 years of her life and a devoted mother,” Vidal said. “There can be no doubt, that leaving her children to go on a crime spree can only be the result of serious underlying issues that collided terribly with her involvement with a violent, unstable man.”

However, Simon noted that seven of the nine robberies occurred after Willis was given an opportunity to speak one-on-one with a female officer outside of the presence of her boyfriend, when her employer sought the return of the car Willis and her boyfriend had stolen and used in the first two robberies. She did not express fear for her safety or being under duress, nor did she mention the robberies that had occurred two weeks earlier, Simon said.

To the contrary, Willis misled law enforcement, the prosecutor said, and after her boyfriend was released on bond for a firearm violation stemming from an Oct. 30, 2021, investigatory stop conducted by Rockville, Md., police, she reunited with him. “And, more disturbingly, she facilitated his possession of the semiautomatic pistol that was used at seven of the nine armed robberies that occurred in November and December,” Simon said.

Senning was indicted in March by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to commit robbery, robbery affecting commerce and using a firearm in a crime of violence.

Senning’s case was delayed after his attorney told the court in July that his client suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and the medications prescribed to treat the illnesses have been changed or adjusted several times, triggering hallucinations and other mental health symptoms.

The judge agreed to a defense motion to have Senning evaluated by a psychologist to determine his mental competency to assist in his defense. The court was notified Wednesday that the evaluation was complete and a report on the findings would be provided by Dec. 12.

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