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Police say 2 turned theft into robbery at Wal-Mart

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

Two fleeing shoplifters turned a theft into a robbery when one of them fended off Wal-Mart security with a knife, Decatur police said Monday.

Police said a Wal-Mart employee who used a camera phone to photograph the license plate on the getaway van helped officers catch the two before they got far.

James Earl Morris Jr., 53, of 224 Eighth Ave. N.W., and Nanette Pannell, 44, of 128 Center Springs Road, Somerville, face two charges each of first-degree robbery.

Police Sgt. Rick Archer said Morris drew a knife on a manager and a loss-prevention officer who approached Morris and Pannell outside the store at about 8 p.m. Sunday.

"He was fending them off with the threat of using the knife," Archer said.

Archer said Pannell ran to the vehicle and got ready to leave while Morris held the employees at bay. Morris then ran to the vehicle, and they took off, Archer said.

Wal-Mart employees gave the tag number to police, who were being dispatched to the scene.

"A very alert Officer Walter Segars made a very intelligent decision not to rush to Wal-Mart but rather to consider the avenues of escape," Archer said.

"He observed the vehicle traveling south on Spring Avenue, attempting to turn onto Oak Lea Road. He's one of our new officers, and even though he's very young, he made a veteran tactical decision and it paid off."

Officers stopped the van, detained Morris and Pannell, and found watches and sunglasses stolen from Wal-Mart inside, Archer said.

While booking Pannell into Decatur City Jail, officers found drug paraphernalia on her person and additionally charged her with possessing paraphernalia, Archer said.

Morris and Pannell remained in Morgan County Jail on Monday in lieu of $40,000 and $40,500 bonds, respectively.

"It turns out both are on probation," Archer said. "It's my understanding that state probation officers placed a hold on them. They could have possibly jeopardized their probation."

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