A Petersburg man with an extensive criminal record was sentenced to 25 years in prison Thursday for gunning down a tow truck driver who was attempting to repossess his car in a crime a prosecutor described as an “exceedingly selfish” ambush.
“This was an innocent person just doing his job,” Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elsa Seidel told a Petersburg judge of the victim, Allan Humphries, who was killed just after midnight on Jan. 11, 2018, when a single round pierced the back window of his tow truck and struck him in the head.
The shooter, Anton B. Robinson, 22, “basically ambushed this tow truck driver,” Seidel declared. “That man never had a chance to help himself.”
Humphries, a beloved father and grandfather, never saw or heard it coming. One moment he was preparing to repossess Robinson’s 2012 Audi — which his girlfriend had purchased for him with a loan — and an instant later he was fatally shot as he sat in the driver’s seat of his tow truck, according to evidence.
When police arrived, officers found the truck backed into a driveway with its engine running and in reverse gear with its lights on and doors locked. Humphries, 42, was still wearing earbuds. The Williamsburg man had just hung up the phone after talking with someone from River City Recovery, his employer.
Right next to his body was a copy of the repossession order.
“He was taking back a vehicle the defendant didn’t even pay for,” said Seidel, in arguing for a punishment at the high end of state sentencing guidelines.
As it turned out, Robinson’s girlfriend, Amy Jackson, had purchased the vehicle for her boyfriend several months earlier, but had made only one payment in September 2017. Warnings the car would be repossessed apparently were ignored.
After a sentencing hearing in Petersburg Circuit Court that included emotionally charged testimony from the victim’s family, Judge Joseph M. Teefey Jr. sentenced Robinson to 43 years in prison with 18 years suspended on convictions of second-degree murder and felony use of a firearm.
Discretionary state sentencing guidelines crafted for Robinson called for an active prison term of 16 years and two months on the low end and 27 years and five months at the high end.
Nate Skaggs, Robinson’s attorney, urged the court to sentence his client to a total of 18 years, based on Robinson’s young age and anticipated family support when he is released.
The acute and bitter pain experienced by the victim’s family was evident during Thursday’s hearing, when his brother and mother testified about how they still are suffering more than 20 months after the slaying.
“It is unexplainable to all of us that knew and loved him why his life was taken so pointlessly,” brother Michael Humphries testified, his voice breaking. “We all knew Allan, and we all know that he would have simply dropped the car and drove away” had the defendant talked with him about it. “The words he said to me one time when I was worried about him will be stuck in my head forever: ‘No car is worth my life. I would never risk not being there for my family for anything.’”
Michael Humphries noted that his brother was 15 when their father died of heart failure, and when Allan Humphries became a dad and was forced to raise his son as a single father, “he was bound and determined to never let his son feel the same pain of loss, or miss a single minute of his life that he could help.”
His son Christopher, now 25, has a daughter of his own, and Allan Humphries felt he was the “happiest man on Earth” the day she was born. She was 3 months old when he was killed.
“His life was taken by a coward who did not have the decency to walk outside and talk to him,” testified Cheryl Baker, the victim’s mother. “He had more compassion in his heart than most people would know. He cared about everybody else more than he cared about himself.”
When police were summoned just after midnight that morning, they discovered Humphries dead and the nearby house open with lights and televisions still on. A dog was left behind.
Petersburg police soon confirmed that Robinson and Jackson lived there but had fled after the shooting to Robinson’s mother’s home in Jarratt. Detectives traveled there and kept watch on Jackson’s car until someone tried to drive it away. Police stopped the car and that led investigators to question Robinson and Jackson.
Jackson told police that she heard the tow truck in their driveway in the 3700 block of Westwood Drive and yelled to Robinson that someone was taking his car. She said she then heard someone going out the front door followed by a gunshot. She ran to the front of the house and saw Robinson running back inside, panicked with a gun his hand.
Robinson then told Jackson to get the children together because they had to go. They all got in her car and left to drive to Robinson’s mother’s house. To police, Robinson eventually admitted firing the gun but claimed it accidentally discharged as he was “skipping to the front door” inside the house and he tripped over an ashtray.
But Robinson’s story could not be reconciled with a firearm expert’s assessment of the shot, based on the position of the recovered shell. At best, the shot may have been fired from the top of the front stoop or down a step or two, Seidel said the expert determined.
Robinson pleaded guilty to the murder Jan. 28, but changed his mind and sought to withdraw his plea at his initial sentencing hearing in June. A judge denied his bid after a hearing last month. On Thursday, Robinson declined to make a formal statement to the court when the judge asked if he had anything to say.
Robinson had multiple convictions as a teen for breaking and entering and grand larceny in Emporia and Sussex and Greensville counties in addition to an assortment of misdemeanors as an adult and a probation violation. He was committed to the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice when he was 17.