All Willie Smith Ward wanted was his baby-back ribs, but it cost him 50 years in prison.
His problems started when he tucked a large rack under his shirt and tried to leave the H-E-B store at 1102 Speight Ave. without paying in September 2011.
A jury in Waco’s 19th State District Court also didn’t like the 43-year-old Ward’s previous five felony and four misdemeanor convictions and recommended that Ward be sentenced to 50 years in prison as a habitual criminal.
Jurors took two minutes Wednesday to convict Ward on robbery charges and about an hour to decide his punishment.
Ward’s theft of the $35 rack of pork ribs turned into a robbery when he threatened a grocery store employee who saw the huge bulge under Ward’s shirt and tried to stop him in the parking lot.
“This verdict shows that the citizens of this county will not tolerate a continued disrespect and disregard for other people and their property,” said Assistant District Attorney J.R. Vicha, who prosecuted Ward with Chris Bullajian. “People who choose to do so will be dealt with seriously and appropriately.”
The employee testified that he asked Ward what was under the shirt and the slab of ribs fell to the ground. He asked Ward what else he was hiding and Ward said, “I got a knife.”
The employee told Ward, “Now you just turned a ticket into a serious crime.”
“If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll show you what I got,” Ward said, according to the employee’s testimony. Ward then ran off.
Ward has previous felony convictions for burglary, attempted
robbery, aggravated assault, leaving the scene of an accident and possession of cocaine and four misdemeanor convictions, including two thefts.
He will have to serve at least a quarter of his sentence before he becomes eligible for parole.
A court official said Ward rejected a 20-year prison sentence in a plea offer from prosecutors before trial.