A man who committed armed robberies with a fake AR-15 rifle – as a means of getting his daughter’s live-in boyfriend arrested – was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Stephen Christensen, 43, was sentenced Monday to serve 14 years in the S.C. Department of Corrections after admitting armed robberies committed with a replica AR-15, a look-a-like that greatly resembled the assault rifle.
The defendant’s attorney told the court that the only reason his client had given for committing the crimes was as an attempt to break up his daughter from her boyfriend, who became his co-defendant, by getting him arrested.
Christensen succeeded in his reported quest, partially at-least, as the boyfriend, Jeff Berry, 19, of Aiken, and Christensen were both arrested and charged with armed robbery related to the Oct. 22 attacks.
Berry was described in court as the driver, with Christensen holding up the victims.
The daughter spoke in court, urging Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper not to think of the defendant as “an inmate” but rather as a father.
No mention was made of her relationship status with Berry.
The robberies happened outside the PetSmart on Whiskey Road and at the Centre South Subway, according to Assistant Solicitor David Miller.
On the night of the attacks, shortly before 10 p.m., two people were accosted by a gunman, carrying what they believed to be a rifle. The defendant held the victims at gunpoint and stole a purse and a wallet.
“What was specifically noted about (the replica) was how real, and how much like the weapon it looked,” Miller told the court.
While officers were speaking with the victims, a second robbery was reported a few miles away on Silver Bluff Road, where a gunman entered the sandwich shop while carrying what was described as a “long gun” or rifle and robbed the business, according to reports at the time.
Investigators found the stolen purse from the PetSmart parking lot at the Subway store, and the defendant, in both cases, wore a “green, hooded military-style jacket” with a bandanna covering the bottom half of his face, Miller said.
After the crimes, a member of the public contacted police and said she thought the defendants could have been the perpetrators.
The individual said that Chistensen and his daughter drove vehicles matching descriptions from witnesses.
When questioned, Christensen’s daughter told police she was given a digital camera identical to one stolen from the first robbery. Miller said that both the daughter and Christensen’s girlfriend cooperated with authorities.
Berry, too, cooperated, making a full confession to police and leading them to the location of the replica weapon.
Berry is set to plead guilty later this week.
Christensen, a sex offender currently registered in North Carolina, has a criminal record of not registering in various states, Miller said.
Under South Carolina law, it is the fear caused by the presenting of the weapon which determines the seriousness of the charge, rather than the danger posed. Therefore, presenting a replica assault rifle can carry the same punishment as the genuine article.