Woman demands speedy trial in Subway robbery hearing
A Columbus woman accused of taking part in the armed robbery of a Columbus Subway store and a string of Dane County robberies requested a speedy trial in an abbreviated preliminary hearing Thursday.
Assistant District Attorney Cliff Burdon called Columbus Police Department Lt. Dennis Weiner to testify at the hearing in Columbia County Circuit Court.
Weiner explained how a Columbus Police Department sergeant responded to a reported armed robbery on Dec. 4. At the store, the sergeant was told by an employee that a man dressed in black with a black face mask and gloves came into the restaurant, brandished a knife and demanded the money in the register.
After the employee opened the register, the suspect took the money and fled the restaurant, and police were called to the scene.
Over the objection of defense attorney Amanda Riek, Weiner explained that he had become involved in the investigation when he was contacted by officers in Dane County inquiring about the Subway case.
Nicole Nichols, 36, and her boyfriend, Jacob Scheel, 32, were suspects in a string of robberies in Dane County and law enforcement there asked Weiner if he knew about Nichols’ whereabouts and if her vehicle was still there.
Acting on a search warrant, Weiner explained that officers arrived at Nichols’ apartment to search the premises and her vehicle, finding clothes and items matching descriptions from the Subway incident. They then took Nichols and Scheel into custody.
When Burdon asked Weiner to identify Nichols in the courtroom, Riek objected to the ordinarily pro-forma question.
“This officer just testified that no one from his department has had direct contact with Ms. Nichols,” said Riek.
Judge Alan White sustained the objection “for the time being,” and Burdon went on to ask Weiner about the chain of custody of the defendant. Weiner said Nichols was brought to the Columbus Police Department where she was interviewed by Detective Michael Klementz of the McFarland Police Department.
The interview was recorded and copied to DVDs for the various agencies involved, during the course of which Weiner had at least in-part seen the interview, he told the court.
The testimony was laid out in the criminal complaint in which Nichols reportedly admitted to having been involved in the robberies with Scheel, using the money to pay for rent, utilities, food, and a heroin habit, which Nichols reportedly told the detective they had hoped to address after the Subway incident.
“She was the driver when the robbery was committed,” Weiner told the court. “They drove to the Subway where they parked behind the business next to it. Mr. Scheel was driving, he got out to do the armed robbery, and she got in the driver’s seat while he committed it. A short time later he returned and they drove away from the scene back to her apartment.“
Weiner then confirmed that it was Nichols that he saw on the video, and that he recognized her as the defendant sitting in court.
“For the record, I would object to reference to this video tape,” said Riek. “The statute requires that if the district attorney’s going to use video, audio or photographic evidence, that I be provided a copy before the hearing.”
White overruled the objection.
Burdon then asked about Scheel, who Weiner said had been interviewed a couple of days later at the Columbia County Jail.
“What information did they tell you in regards to what Mr. Scheel had told them about his involvement in the Columbus Subway robbery?”
“Objection — relevancy,” Riek interjected.
“He has been referred to as the co-defendant and someone who is also part of the Subway robbery,” Burdon argued.”
“I’m sustaining the objection,” said White.
With no more questions from Burdon, White jumped in to the conclusion of the hearing.
“Based on the testimony, particularly the admission that Officer Weiner was referencing with regard to Ms. Nichols to law enforcement, I believe that a felony has been committed,” said White.
“And I don’t get to ask any questions?” Riek asked.
“No,” White answered, excusing Weiner from the stand.
Riek noted that as Nichols is being held on a $50,000 cash bond, it would be more accurate to note her address as the county jail, before entering a plea of not-guilty, with Nichols demanding a speedy trial, which would need to commence within 90 days of the request, by law.
“Just for counsel’s note, I want to note that when the court’s in a preliminary hearing you have the right concerning cross-examination, and the court felt that the admission was substantial enough,” said White, explaining his bringing the hearing to an end without questions from the defense.
Charged with a single count of armed robbery with threat of force as a party to a crime, Nichols is facing a sentence of up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
Scheel is charged with armed robbery with threat of force and has additionally been in custody on a probation hold.