Grandmother's Terror: 'Help Me Before They Come Back'

Man ordered to stand trial in home invasion case that authorities say led to Wilson woman's death.

Carrie Smith's voice, recorded two months before her death, was filled with terror.

"Please come quick, I was robbed," the Wilson grandmother told the 911 operator in a tape played Wednesday at a preliminary hearing for one of the accused robbers. "They made me open my safe. Please help me before they come back."

Police showed up within minutes, but prosecutors say the damage was done. They say stress of the gunpoint robbery caused Smith to suffer a heart attack, which caused her health to decline until . Her death was ruled a homicide.

And now, one of those accused robbers—30-year-old Rogel Suero of Allentown—is headed to trial for allegedly robbing, threatening, assaulting and ultimately killing the 76-year-old Smith.

District Judge Richard Yetter ruled Wednesday there was enough evidence for the case against Suero to go to Northampton County Court.

He made his ruling after hearing testimony from police, the county coroner, the man accused of driving Suero from the robbery, and from Smith herself, in her terrified 911 call.

The call came in early on the morning of Jan. 15, 2012, after Suero and another man—whom police have yet to identify—allegedly burglarized Smith's home on Hillside Avenue.

Police say Smith's granddaughter, Rebecca Johnson, helped plan the robbery with Suero, giving them a key to the house and getting her brother, who lived with Smith, out of the home.

Johnson, 28, is also facing a criminal homicide charge and is in Northampton County Prison.

Once inside the house, police say, Suero and the other man put a pillow over Smith's face and made her open a safe, giving them access to $40,000 in cash and jewelry. Johnson and Suero allegedly wanted the money to travel to Colorado for a drug deal.

Suero and Johnson had attempted to rob the house two weeks earlier, according to testimony from David Bechtold, Johnson's cousin and the man who allegedly drove Suero from the Jan. 15 robbery.

Bechtold, 18, testified that he and Suero were going to simply carry Smith's safe out of the house. But they called this off when they realized Smith was home.

Two weeks later, Bechtold said, the plan changed: Johnson would get her brother out of the house, and Suero and another man—who Bechtold knew as "Avon"—would go into the house.

The robbery took five minutes, said Bechtold, who testified he was later paid $1,000 for his help. He is facing robbery charges and is in county prison.

After the men left, Smith called 911. She couldn't identify the men, but knew one thing: They'd known she had a safe.

"I'm afraid they're going to come back," she told the operator. One of them had a gun, she said. He had threatened her: "If you holler, I'm going to put this to your head and shoot you."

Defense attorney Phil Lauer argued that there was no way to show that Suero did any of these things. He also told the judge that Smith had a "litany of medical conditions" before the robbery that could have contributed to her death.

Assistant District Attorney Patricia Mulqueen said Suero acted as an accomplice in the robbery, and was therefore guilty even if he hadn't taken actually assaulted or threated Smith.

Yetter agreed, and bound all charges against Suero over for trial. Suero's formal arraignment is scheduled for June 20.


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