Local News

Witnesses testify robbers threatened and assaulted them

SEBRING - When a robber demanded on Dec. 12, 2012, that a Pizza Hut employee punch the back door code and let him in the business, she at first refused, she testified Thursday. But after the robber put the gun right next to her mouth she relented and let him in the restaurant, Angel Chavez, the employee, testified. The testimony came during the first day of the trial of Christopher Kenon, who along with two other men, has been charged with the robbery of Pizza Hut. Kenon is being tried on charges of burglary of an occupied structure, aggravated battery with a firearm, two counts of aggravated kidnapping with a weapon and armed robbery. Because all three robbers wore masks, neither Chavez nor another employee, Joseph Halko, who is now assistant manager, could identify Kenon as one of the robbers. Prosecutors also did not say whether they suspected Kenon as being the robber who threatened Chavez.
The robbery occurred just after the restaurant closed. Kenon also has been a suspect in other robberies occurring around the same time, including one of a restaurant in Avon Park, authorities say. Assistant State Attorney Richard Castillo said that DNA evidence found on a mask believed to have been used in the Pizza Hut robbery came from Kenon. Shirley Whitsett, the attorney for Kenon, said he did not have a firearm during the robbery and that he was forced to participate. But Chavez testified the robber who initially grabbed her arm had a gun and Halko testified that the other two robbers had guns. Chavez testified that after she opened the door the other two robbers ran toward the door and toward the front of Pizza Hut, while the third one stayed with her and had her kneel down and look toward the flood while also having a "gun pointed at my head," she said. After the robbers finished getting money from Halko, who was inside, Chavez said, that they had her and Halko crawl to a walk-in freezer where they were forced to stay until the robbers left. Halko testified that when someone came in he thought it was a driver finishing his round, but it turned out to be a masked man with a gun. "He had it directly pointed at my face," Halko said. The robbers forced him to empty a safe, as well as a cash register, he said. During that time, one of the robbers hit him on his head twice with a gun because he wasn't doing it fast enough, he testified. At one point during his testimony, Halko stepped back from his description of the robber. "Another gentleman, gentleman, person came up behind me with a delivery bag," he said. After one of the robbers hit him with a gun, "I immediately made sure I gave them every last penny," he said. Halko said he got goose bumps during the experience and indicated he thought at one point he feared the robbers were going to shoot him. After he gave them the money, he said, "There was a moment of silence, really scary." But then they told him to go to the freezer, he said. After Chavez and he were in the freezer, they heard a loud noise,and it turned out that apparently one of the robbers fired a shot at the cooler, they said. The trial was expected to be completed Aug. 16. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834