GOSHEN — Toby Jones was around 13 years old when he was charged with robbery for the first time, and thought the punishment he received as a juvenile was closer to summer camp than jail.
But the 18-year-old Elkhart man said the 14 months he spent in the Elkhart County Correctional Facility since a March 26, 2017, arrest for armed robbery opened his eyes.
Jones was sentenced to three years in prison followed by three years on probation Thursday in Elkhart County Circuit Court after pleading guilty this past March to a lesser crime, committing robbery by putting someone in fear, a Level 5 felony. Though 17 at the time, he was originally charged as an adult with armed robbery, a Level 3 felony with a maximum prison term of 16 years.
He had demanded money from a woman in the Carriage House Apartment Complex which she owed his grandmother for babysitting, according to testimony in court. He threatened to kill the woman and her two-year-old daughter if she didn't hand over $200 by the end of the week, but only made off with the $45 that was in her pocket.
Initial reports indicated he had a gun, though his attorney disputed that he had a weapon and questioned whether the evidence supported the victim's account. Jones's mother brought him to the Elkhart County Police Department that night, where he turned himself in.
"She had a reason to be afraid of me," Jones told the judge ahead of sentencing. "There's nothing more scary to someone than somebody who doesn't care about nothing, let alone about themselves."
He said he didn't care about the juvenile detention stays and other programs he was put through after his brushes with the law starting in 2013 or 2014. He said he expected the same thing in this case, so he was surprised when he was sent to the county jail and told he could spend up to 16 years in prison.
"It's totally different, it's not a joke," Jones said. "It changed the way I thought about a lot of stuff."
In light of his new attitude, his attorney, Mark Doty, asked that Jones receive a punishment that doesn't involve prison. He noted Jones has been attending The Crossing alternative school and is ready to get a GED, and has a supportive family behind him.
Before handing down the sentence, Judge Michael Christofeno told Jones he was trying to weigh whether he really got the message or not. He said he thought long and hard about the punishment, taking into account Jones's young age and his juvenile court history.
"You told me the same story I hear from all the young people who went through the juvenile system, they thought it was a joke. You know the juvenile system is about rehabilitation, people are trying to help you, but in adult court, you're the one who helps yourself," Christofeno said. "If Mr. Doty is wrong, I'll get to watch you spend most of your life in the prison system (and) we will have lost you, Mr. Jones."