Jimmy Earl Matthews, 34, of Fridley, could face life in prison after his latest charge: armed robbery of the Totem Superette in Columbia Heights on March 11, 2011.
Two months after the robbery, on May 11, 2011, Matthews was charged with one count of possession of a firearm during a violent crime, one count of interference with commerce by robbery, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Under federal law, felons are prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition at any time.
Matthews’ prior felony convictions include aggravated robbery in 1997, and second-degree murder in 1999. Both of these crimes happened in Hennepin County.
“When we have someone who is perceived as being extremely dangerous, local prosecutors will work with our office to see if we can prosecute those people federally,” said Jeanne Cooney, spokeswoman for the United States Attorney’s Office. “He could pretty much be gone off the streets for the rest of his life.”
According to the indictment, Matthews entered Totem Superette on March 11, demanded cash, and threatened an employee with a gun. The store was robbed at 9:38 p.m., according to an Anoka County criminal complaint.
Allegedly, a Columbia Heights police officer responded to the call and saw Matthews leave the store into the alley next to the store, and hide behind a parked car. Matthews grabbed something from his sweatshirt and started to run, and the officer chased him. Matthews then allegedly fell into a snow bank and the officer saw him hide something.
According to the officer, Matthews got up and ran inside a nearby building, where he saw other police officers. This prompted him to turn around and run again. The officer who had been originally chasing him saw him throw a pair of blue gloves and a bandana into the snow. Those items matched what the robber was wearing. A short time later, Matthews was caught and arrested.
Behind the parked vehicle, police found a .38-caliber pistol with a fully loaded magazine and a bullet in the chamber. From the snow bank, police recovered $146 in cash.
The Hobbs Act, passed by Congress in 1946, allows federal prosecution of individuals who commit armed robbery at a place that deals with interstate commerce. Federal prosecution often comes with tougher sentencing, Cooney said. The federal system also does not allow parole, leaving the convicted criminal to serve their entire sentence.
“Normally, robbery—even armed robbery—is something that would be prosecuted at the state level. But by virtue of having a Hobbs Act, we can charge him with another potential hefty sentence.” Cooney said. “It allows us to take some of these real serious cases and charge them at the federal level.”
If convicted in the federal case filed against him, Matthews could face a maximum penalty of life in prison for possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. He could also serve up to 10 years in prison for possessing a firearm as a felon. Additionally, under the Hobbs Act, he could receive up to 20 years in prison for interference of commerce by robbery.
“Those are some incredibly long sentences. The gun charge already carries a hefty sentence, but the Hobbs Act just adds another charge,” Cooney said. “The Hobbs Act is another tool in the toolbox, and in this case, it’s a good tool.”
Matthews’ federal defender, Attorney Manny Atwal, could not be reached for comment Monday.