Baby wipes, candy and a cop’s hunch land Cobb robbers in prison

The pattern was clear.

A pair of masked men burst into the drug store just before closing time, order employees onto their stomachs in a back room, shove a gun in the managers’ face demanding they open the safe, take the cash and drive off.

That’s how Dave Montonio Sturgis Jr., Joseph Stowers and Lloyd Nathaniel Joyner spent several nights in early summer 2015.

And now, a federal court has sentenced Sturgis to 32 years and Joyner to 40 years in prison for the robberies throughout Cobb County. Stowers, who pleaded guilty before last month’s trial, is set for sentencing March 23.

"This crew had little regard for the lives of the employees they robbed and no fear of being caught,” said John Horn, head federal prosecutor of Georgia’s northern district.

Sometimes they made off with $200, other times with $5,000.

Stowers and Joyner were the gunmen, robbing a few stores together before bringing on Sturgis as their driver in mid-June 2015, prosecutors said.

All the stores they were convicted of robbing were in Marietta or Smyrna. But it was a Lawrenceville detective who, with FBI agents at his side, arrested the men outside a Marietta CVS on June 24, 2015.

A federal affidavit accused the men of robbing 11 stores and trying to rob another between January and June 2015.

Federal prosecutors brought six robberies to the judge. The prosecutors’ office declined to comment about charges from the other five robberies.

The first of the 11 alleged robberies was at a Lawrenceville CVS in January 2015 where the men supposedly made off with thousands of dollars after putting a gun to the manager’s head. The men weren’t charged in that case.

Their robberies in Cobb led to officers posting bulletins warning metro area cops of the crimes.

Lawrenceville detective Justin Hipps noticed a pattern.

Hipps noticed that the facts of the alleged Gwinnett CVS robbery he worked in January matched the description of what was going on in Cobb.

After seeing the similarities, he contacted Cobb police, and along with federal and state agencies, formed a task force that eventually arrested the men.

The task force found that, 30 minutes before robbing one of the stores, Joyner used his debit card to buy baby wipes and candy.

Between the bank statements, surveillance footage and witnesses who identified the cars used, the task force got warrants to arrest the men.

When police searched Joyner’s College Park home, officers found clothing that matched store footage.

“Criminals do not recognize jurisdictional limits nor do they confine their activities to a single jurisdiction,” said Lawrenceville police chief Randy Johnson.

He commended his detective for recognizing a pattern and acting on it.

“We are proud of his tenacious efforts in investigating these crimes,” Johnson said.