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Man armed with BB gun killed in robbery attempt


September 1, 2000
Columbia, South Carolina

A man armed with a BB gun died while he and his partner tried to rob a pair of Charlotte businessmen Thursday outside a motel on Broad River Road, police said.

The robbers didn't know these were ex-military officers, one of whom built his career on teaching anti-terrorism skills to state officials, according to newspaper reports.

Jonathan James Berry, 32, died outside the Best Inn at 1029 Briargate Circle after the businessmen shot him three times in the chest and once in the side, Richland County Coroner Frank Barron said.

Police charged Berry's partner, Richard Sean Harley, 32, of 1119 Shirlington Road, with attempted armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery, according to jail records. Harley was not injured.

Harley, who has history of stealing, driving and domestic violence offenses, was being held in the Richland County jail on $50,000 bail, reports showed.

Richland County sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Chris Cowan said Thomas Bullins and John Nettles will not be charged in the 1 a.m. shooting.

"They were lawfully carrying weapons," Cowan said. "They were well within their rights."

The men did not know the guns aimed at them weren't real, Cowan said.

Bullins, reached at his North Carolina home late Thursday, said he did not want to talk about the shooting.

"It was an unfortunate incident," Bullins said. "Right now we want to spend some time with our families and put it behind us."

Bullins told investigators he and Nettles were leaving their room when Berry approached what he thought was a handgun and raised it to Bullins' face.

Berry demanded money from Bullins, but Bullins grabbed Berry's forearm and the two got into a struggle, officials said.

Bullins then reached into his pocket and pulled out a .22-caliber handgun, firing one shot that hit Berry in the aorta, Barron said.

That turned out to be the fatal bullet, Barron said.

After the first shot was fired, Nettles came out of his room, officials said.

Nettles fired from a .45 semiautomatic, hitting Berry three times in the chest as he continued to struggle with Bullins, Barron said.

The men, who are also trained paramedics, performed CPR on Berry, but it was too late, the coroner said.

The men went after Harley, who was nearby at the time of the holdup, but later fled, Cowan said.

He was caught near the pool at the motel, officials said. They held him until sheriff's deputies arrived.

After the men recovered the weapons from the thieves, they realized they weren't real, Cowan said.

Sheriff Leon Lott said Bullins and Nettles were in Columbia to find out about South Carolina laws governing security companies. They had meetings Thursday at the State Law Enforcement Division and the police academy.

"They are ex-military Special Forces," Lott said. "They picked the wrong two guys because they're trained to teach people how to handle exactly the kind of situation they had last night."

Special Forces soldiers are carefully selected, specially trained, and capable of extended operations in extremely remote and hostile territory.

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