When a Chantilly teen drove two buddies to and from a Centreville 7-Eleven store, a year ago, robbing it was the farthest thing from his mind. And when the deed was done, he refused to take a share of the proceeds.
BUT IN THE EYES of the law, driving the getaway car earned him a share of the punishment. And last week in Fairfax County Circuit Court, 19-year-old Adam John Wirth was sentenced to a year in jail.
The crime occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 15, 2006, at the 7-Eleven at 13830-I Lee Highway. At the time, Wirth lived on Virginia Dare Court in the Brookside community.
Police Det. Eric Deane explained the case against him in March 22-23, 2006 affidavits for warrants to search Wirth's vehicle and townhouse for evidence. He wrote that store employees told police that a man entered the business, "brandished a dark-colored pistol at them and demanded money from the store register."
One of the victims handed the cash-register till to the suspect who then fled with the till and its contents. Afterward, police K-9 officers tracked the robber from the scene, around the west end of the store, and then east along the rear of the shopping center to the area behind the AMF Centreville Lanes bowling alley at 13814 Lee Highway.
Deane later reviewed the surveillance tapes from the 7-Eleven. He noticed that the robber wore an "unconventional-type 'mask' (dark-colored with a white patch on top of the head), a black long-sleeved shirt or jacket, faded blue jeans and black-and-white sneakers. He also saw the suspect holding a dark-colored pistol.
The detective investigated further and developed information that the suspected robber was someone named A.J. who drove a black, Ford Bronco. Deane learned that A.J. and another person parked the vehicle that night behind the bowling alley and then walked behind the other stores before entering the 7-Eleven.
A CHECK of police-department records led Deane to Adam John Wirth of Chantilly. And from the Department of Motor Vehicles, Deane discovered that Wirth owned a black, Ford Bronco.
According to the detective, the fact that Wirth and the other man "walked down the rear of the stores before coming into the 7-11 and robbing it is corroborated by the K-9 track and other facts in this case." On March 23, 2006, police charged Wirth with two counts of robbery and one count of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
They executed the search warrants for his home and vehicle the same day. From the Bronco, police seized a black T-shirt. From Wirth's townhouse, they seized a pair of black-and-white sneakers, a Walther P22 BB pistol, an Action Arms pellet gun and five .40-caliber bullets.
One of Wirth's robbery charges, plus the firearm charge, were later dropped. But the grand jury indicted him on the remaining robbery charge and, on Nov. 15, 2006, he pleaded guilty to it.
He returned to Circuit Court last Friday, Feb. 16, for sentencing before Judge Jane Roush. But first, defense attorney John Spencer called three witnesses on his behalf.
A man named P.J. testified that he met Wirth six months ago at an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting in Appomattox, Va., and Wirth asked him to be his sponsor. (Since it's an anonymous organization, P.J. asked Centre View not to use his whole name).
"Adam and I kind of have the same background," said P.J. "I started drinking very young, too, and had a lot of trouble with the court system." P.J. said Wirth told him about the robbery and expressed remorse for his part in the crime. Since then, said P.J., "Adam has come a very long way" and began the 12-Step program.
Wirth's father, Michael, said his son, free on bond until his sentencing, has been living with him in Appomattox County since last spring. "He's been amazing," said the father. "I've seen brokenness and change in him." He said Adam helped him run his dog-breeding business and attended AA meetings and church regularly.
BEFORE, said Michael Wirth, "I think he was trying to be accepted [by his peers]. He's taken responsibility and knows he's made a huge mistake." Noting that he's been sober 11 years, the father said of his son: "I see maturity — the maturity I wish I'd had."
Then Adam Wirth described his life with his father. "I couldn't leave the house without my dad or another person," he said. "I got up at 6 a.m., six days a week, and worked in the kennels."
"Have you had any alcohol?" asked Spencer. "I've been sober since the day I was arrested," replied Wirth.
"Did alcohol have a part in this robbery?" asked Judge Roush. "Yes, Ma'am," answered Wirth. "I was high."
Spencer noted that Wirth testified against one of the co-defendants named James. Wirth said the other one, named Richard, allegedly set fire to his house and himself, and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Sullivan verified that statement.
Under questioning from Spencer, Wirth said he was driving the vehicle, the night of the robbery, and picked up the other two men. He said Richard was 28 — 10 years his senior — and had signed him to a recording contract. He only knew him 1 1/2 months. Wirth said he "didn't plan on getting high," that night, but both he and James became intoxicated.
"James and Richard were waving around a pellet gun and were talking about robbery in general, but not about robbing any particular place," said Wirth. "I wasn't in the discussion. Then they stood up and said, 'C'mon, let's go.' I thought we were gonna get drugs, food or maybe pick up some girls."
Since he'd signed with Richard, Wirth figured he'd help him if he could. But, he stressed, "It didn't include robbery." Said Wirth: "They told me where to go — turn here and there — and I thought we were gonna get food at 7-Eleven."
Wirth parked the Bronco by the bowling alley. "Richard pulls out a pellet gun, pulls his shirt over his face and says he's gonna rob the place," said Wirth. "I thought it was a joke; he was relatively wealthy."
But Wirth realized he was serious when Richard returned to the vehicle with the cash register from the 7-Eleven. "I panicked," said Wirth. "He screamed at me to drive and I did. He told me he got $70 and offered me a third of it. I declined; I didn't want any part of it."
Then, said Wirth, "They had me drive to another 7-Eleven to rob. But I was starting to sober up by then and I said, 'No, this isn't right.'" When Spencer asked why he didn't call the police, Wirth answered, "I was scared of Richard. He was bigger and older than me and I felt he had my future in his hands."
HE TOLD Roush he takes responsibility for his actions and had since become active in AA and his church. Then he added: "There's been addiction in my life, and I want it to stop here."
Prosecutor Sullivan recommended Wirth serve a year in jail — a 10-year prison sentence with nine years suspended — plus three years active probation and some community service. He said Det. Deane told him Wirth was willing to cooperate and he noted that James was also convicted.
"I've seen a small change in [Wirth] in the short time I've known him," said Sullivan. "I think he needs to be punished for his role, but the others were much worse [and played bigger parts in the crime]."
Describing Wirth as "a 19-year-old with a felony on his record," defense attorney Spencer told the judge, "He moved out of the area, left his crowd and changed his life around. He's doing positive things with his life, and you won't see him back in court again."
Then Wirth stood and said, "I'm just very sorry. It was a big mistake and it won't ever happen again."
The state sentencing guidelines called for three years, six months to six years, nine months in prison. But in light of the testimony, Roush gave Wirth the sentence Sullivan had suggested. "I don't think I've ever departed from the guidelines before in a robbery case," she said. "But I am in this one."
Following his release, Wirth is also to undergo whatever substance-abuse treatment his probation officer recommends.