Worker who shot cocaine thief at East Side gyros shop gets 10 years prison

September 28, 2018


A former worker at an East Side gyros shop who shot another man at the shop last year as he tried to steal cocaine without paying for it was sentenced Thursday to 10 years and one day in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson said it made little sense to sentence Eric C. Howard, 38, to much more than the mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence he faced for discharging a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. Instead, Peterson added a one-day prison sentence for a separate conviction, possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.

On Sept. 25, 2017, Howard shot Jesse Beadles, 35, in the back as Beadles tried to dash out of Spartan Gyros, 2702 E. Washington Ave., with a baggie of cocaine that Beadles didn’t have enough money to pay for.

Beadles survived the shooting but was also charged in federal court with possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. He received a five-year prison sentence last month from Peterson after pleading guilty to the crime.

In June, Howard pleaded guilty to the cocaine possession and gun charges. Under federal law, the mandatory minimum sentence for the gun charge is 10 years in prison, to be served following any other sentence.

The cocaine distribution charge carries up to 20 years in prison, but federal sentencing guidelines that took into account Howard’s criminal history and the amount of cocaine involved, among other factors, gave Howard a sentencing range of six to 12 months in prison.

Peterson said he had no trouble sentencing Howard to 10 years in prison for the gun charge, calling it a “pretty spectacularly violent crime.” But he said that tacking on another six months for the cocaine possession conviction, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Rita Rumbelow asked, would have little beyond symbolic value to a person who will be 48 years old when he finishes the 10-year gun sentence.

“I don’t think it would provide a meaningful benefit” to public protection, Peterson said.

The sentence handed down by Peterson was the one sought by Howard’s lawyer, Federal Defender Joseph Bugni. In a sentencing memorandum, Bugni wrote that Howard was selling cocaine at Spartan because he was in debt to the shop’s owner, who had bailed Howard out of jail after Howard was arrested on a warrant for unpaid child support.

“That meant working off the debt, with longer shifts and doing the boss’ personal errands,” Bugni wrote. “That included taking care of his boss’ side business — selling cocaine.”

He wrote that Howard didn’t profit personally from the cocaine sales and was only the “trusted cashier.” The gun kept behind the counter was for protection from armed robbers, who are not uncommon on East Washington Avenue.

Howard’s boss was never charged with a crime despite police searches of his business and his home.

Bugni wrote that on the day of the shooting, Howard was minding the store when his boss was away and was “strung out” from dipping into the cocaine supply. When Beadles grabbed the cocaine and ran, Bugni wrote, Howard “just reacted” and shot at him.

Peterson told Howard that reacting that way was “far more grave an offense than just an impulse.”

“It wasn’t in some dark alley, it was in a public place,” Peterson said. “The round that you fired could have gone anywhere.”

Howard apologized, saying that the “biggest punishment here is what I’m losing from my family, my children.”

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