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Three arrested in Grumpy's robbery
Three arrested in Grumpy's robbery

Joseph Esparza, Sabrina Graham, and Cory Trotter face charges in the robbery of Grumpy's.

HAZELGREEN, Mo. (Sept. 28, 2012) — Three people were arrested last week by Pulaski County deputies on suspicion of robbing the clerk at the Grumpy’s Outback liquor store with a gun on July 29.

Grumpy’s is located near Exit 145 of Interstate 44 at the 30000 grid of Highway AB.

Those arrested are Sabrina Marissa Graham, 21, her boyfriend, Cory Nathaniel Trotter, 20, both of Laquey, and a friend, Joseph Clayton Esparza, 23, of Devil’s Elbow. Cory Trotter’s father, Tony Trotter, 53, also of Laquey, was arrested on unrelated charges when deputies went to the Trotter home to arrest him.

Esparza has an extensive prior criminal history, including an escape from custody charge which was dropped by former Pulaski County Prosecutor Deborah Hooper.

Tracking down the suspects was not easy for deputies, but according to court records, a witness was able to help by giving a partial description of a woman who walked into the store, came out with a cup, got into a blue four-door car, and left going toward Richland. The car came back a short time later and left, after which time the clerk came outside saying they had just been robbed. Checking the surveillance camera showed that a woman with brown hair and tattoos on both wrists had gotten out of a blue Mazda Protégé with a temp tag on the back window.

Deputies stopped a similar vehicle two days later and found a woman driving, Sabrina Graham, who had bleached blonde hair and didn’t initially appear to be the woman in the surveillance video; Graham said she was buying the car from her boyfriend, Cory Trotter. Waynesville police stopped the same vehicle on Aug. 9 and found the same people in the vehicle, but released them on both occasions.

Quick action by a sheriff’s dispatcher, however, changed the case since the dispatcher happened to be working on the night when Waynesville police stopped the vehicle. The sheriff’s dispatcher personally knew members of Graham’s family, and a re-check of the surveillance video led to the dispatcher and the relative of Graham being able to identify Sabrina Graham as being the woman in the surveillance video. A deputy had Graham come to the sheriff’s department, and while Graham was calling her attorney, the deputy checked the video and was able to “positively identify she was the female in the video.”

Prosecutors filed charges against Graham on Sept. 19, and the next day filed charges against her boyfriend Cory Trotter and also against Esparza. All three faces Class A felony charges of first-degree robbery, for which they could spend 10 to 30 years in state prison, and Graham also faces an unclassified felony charge of armed criminal action for which she could spend an additional three years in state prison. Bonds for all three people were set at $500,000 cash or surety, in Graham’s case on the grounds that she “does not have a permanent address and stays wherever she can” and said she may “leave the area in the near future.”

In a meeting with deputies on Sept. 19, Graham said that not only she but also Joe Esparza and Cory Trotter were involved in the July 29 robbery, with all three going to a friend’s house by Grumpy’s and then driving to Grumpy’s where she purchased a soda, went back to her vehicle, drove toward the Oasis Truck Port, and was told by Esparza to go back to Grumpy’s.

“She stated she pulled up to the car port and Joe Esparza got out of the vehicle wearing a mask. She stated he went inside the store and came back out and told her to get on the interstate,” according to court documents. “She stated as they drove down the interstate, Joe Esparza threw the orange shirt, mask and gun out the window” before they returned to Cory Trotter’s mother’s home, “where Esparza was picked up a short time later.”

While arresting Graham’s boyfriend, Cory Trotter, deputies found Trotter’s father at the same residence. The father was on probation for two separate cases two which he had pleaded guilty on April 19 of this year — driving while his license was revoked on Nov. 27 of last year near the Buckhorn Shell gas station on Highway 17, and driving while intoxicated by Percocet and Xanax on Nov. 6 of last year on Summit Avenue. Both cases involved plea bargains to what were initially a longer list of offenses.

The father was placed on two years of probation, given a 30 day suspended jail sentence to run concurrently with a separate Greene County case, and ordered to perform 20 hours of community service by the end of May with fines and court costs of $268.50 for one case and $228.50 for the second case, along with a substance abuse treatment evaluation through SATOP. However, the father didn’t comply with those probation terms, failed to appear for an Aug. 24 probation review, and had a no-bond warrant issued by Associate Circuit Judge Colin Long.

Both probation violation cases will be heard on Oct. 12.

While Graham and her boyfriend have no significant prior criminal record, Esparza has numerous cases dating back more than half a decade, including a 2009 escape from custody when he fled a downtown doctor’s office to which he had been taken by jailers for medical treatment. That case can be viewed at this link: http://www.pulaskicountydaily.com/news.php?viewStory=883

According to Circuit Court Clerk Rachelle Beasley, in January 2010, former prosecutor Deborah Hooper dropped the charges of escape from custody that were filed in that case.

Esparza has been in court on four different court cases so far this year unrelated to the Grumpy’s incident.

  • On Aug. 20, prosecutors charged Esparza with driving while his license was suspended, a Class A misdemeanor, following a June 6 incident in which Esparza was driving a red 2000 Oldsmobile Alero on Highway Z near the intersections with Tabernacle Lane and Tapestry Lane and deputies stopped him for not having a rear license plate light and for failing to drive on the right half of the roadway. The suspension was due to failure to pay child support, according to court records. He has an Oct. 12 court hearing on that case.
  • On Aug. 21, Esparza pleaded guilty to a separate case of driving while suspended, first offense, following an April 12 incident in which a state trooper’s radar detected Esparza driving 81 mph in a 70 mph zone on Interstate 44 at mile marker 158; when his red Alero was pulled over, Esparza didn’t have a driver’s license and a computer check revealed that his license had been suspended. He agreed on Aug. 21 to pay $378.50 in fines and court costs.
  • On Aug. 8, prosecutors transferred a Class C felony charge of second-degree domestic assault from Pulaski County to Phelps County after a change-of-venue request by Esparza’s public defender. That case dates back to August of last year; Esparza doesn’t yet have a Phelps County court date.
  • On Sept. 10, prosecutors charged him with a Class C felony of possessing Diazepam, a controlled substance, on Aug. 29. Deputies had arrested him on Aug. 29 during a domestic dispute on the 20000 grid of Hartford Road between St. Robert and Dixon; Esparza had admitted to having a syringe in his pocket and deputies found four blue tablets later identified as Diazepam along with a “one hitter” metal smoking pipe, two keys and two SIM cards. He has a Nov. 16 court hearing on that case, for which he could spend two to seven years in state prison, a year in county jail, and pay a $5,000 fine.

His earlier criminal history is even more serious, including multiple vehicle thefts and forging bank checks.

On July 16, 2007, Hazelgreen firefighters responded to a late model Jeep Cherokee fully engulfed in flames at mile marker 148 of eastbound Interstate 44. According to court records, state troopers determined the Jeep had been reported stolen from a Waynesville man; with the assistance of personnel from Jack’s Towing, the trooper located Esparza and another man who said he “ain’t gonna take the fall for this” and insisted that Esparza “tell them the truth.” Esparza admitted to deputies that he had stolen the Jeep, parked in the Buckhorn Shell parking lot, several days earlier.

“On the way home Monday the Jeep ran out of gas. I was scared that my fingerprints would be all over the Jeep. The only thing I knew to do was to torch the Jeep,” Esparza told the trooper, according to court documents.

Esparza was charged with the Class D felony of knowingly burning and a Class C felony of first-degree tampering with a motor vehicle. He could have received up to seven years in state prison but eventually pleaded guilty on Nov. 7 of that year in a plea bargain that included a suspended imposition of sentence with five years probation, victim restitution of $1,500, and 80 hours of community service.

He didn’t complete those terms of his probation and committed a new offense, leading to a probation revocation request.

On Jan. 16, 2008, prosecutors charged him with three Class C felony counts of forgery accusing him of trying to write three checks to Price Cutter supermarket in Waynesville on nonexistent account with the Bank of America branch in Rolla totaling $1,484.48, with invalid bank routing numbers and account numbers. He could have received two to seven years in state prison for that offense, but on April 16 of that year he agreed to a plea bargain in which he would receive 120 days shock time and a suspended execution of sentence with five years probation if he completed shock time successfully, along with 60 hours of community service and obtaining his GED.

On March 5, Circuit Judge Mary Sheffield imposed a four-year sentence for the burning case, to be served with 120 days shock time with substance abuse treatment ordered after the shock time. Court records in the vehicle fire case note that his “drug of choice” is methamphetamine, with other substances used as well including heroin, marijuana, crack, cocaine, alcohol and Xanax, beginning experimentation around the age of 12.

The forgery plea bargain was approved on July 8, but in just a few months probation officers reported that he violated the terms of his probation by wrongful use of alcohol and controlled substances, including marijuana. Esparza failed to appear for a probation violation hearing on Nov. 5 for both the forgery and burning charges.

Sheffield issued an arrest warrant, but Esparza’s lawyer at the time, David Lowe, said in court documents that Esparza had forgotten about the court date, and when he remembered, he appeared at the courthouse and was arrested. Sheffield refused to reinstate Esparza’s request to get his bond reinstated and Esparza went to a treatment center. After release from the treatment center, probation officers reported continued violations including being stopped by sheriff’s deputies on Feb. 25, 2009, for driving while his license was revoked, for fleeing deputies on April 25, 2009 in a pursuit that led to him “crash(ing) through two separate fences and (tearing) up the property of a citizen of Pulaski County” while driving a vehicle stolen from Maries County, and failing to report to his probation officer. The case was eventually transferred to the public defender’s office and Sheffield revoked Esparza’s probation on July 8, 2009, sending him to state prison for five years.

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