LAWRENCEVILLE - Freedom, albeit temporary, is just a bond payment away for four Meadowcreek student-athletes accused of rolling a Hispanic man for a wad of cash last month.
At $50,000 bond each, the payments will be hefty - perhaps more than the teens' hard-working folks can pull together quickly, family members told Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Michael Clark at a Thursday morning hearing.
"That (bond amount is) a lot - we're going to see how many friends you've got," Clark deadpanned from the bench, then regained a foreboding stance: "If you do something wrong, I'll put you in jail so fast your heads will spin."
The suspects - Sean Frezell, Simon Terzian, both 18, Cory Huck and Atiim Henderson, both 17 - are accused of robbing the 33-year-old at gunpoint Nov. 3 in an apartment complex parking lot near Norcross. Each has been jailed more than three weeks, which endangers their academic statuses, defense attorneys said.
But Clark, who reluctantly granted any bond at all, asserted that grades and SAT scores should be the least of the teens' worries. Georgia law carries a minimum 10-year prison sentence for armed robbery convicts.
"If you did this," Clark told the suspects, who wore shackles and green jumpsuits in the gallery's front row, "you threw away your lives ... all for pocket change from some guy in a parking lot."
For now, the prosecution's case relies solely on the alleged victim, who picked the teens' mugshots from a composite of 20 similar-looking jail inmates. But a lead investigator, Gwinnett police Detective Keith Wiggins, testified that several other Norcross-area robberies are under investigation that would fit the teens' alleged modus operandi.
Wiggins also pointed out that Henderson was arrested in August on conspiracy to commit a crime charges, when police found him carrying a handgun replica around another Norcross apartment complex.
"He indicated he was there to rob Hispanic males," Wiggins said of the case later adjudicated in juvenile court. "He knew Hispanic males had money."
In the Nov. 3 robbery, police allege that Terzian held a handgun to the victim's face, while Huck threatened to punch him and the other two lifted his wallet. They reportedly pinched $700 and a Motorola Razr cell phone from the victim and ran away.
Before they were implicated in the robbery, all four teens were arrested at the same apartment complex, Orchard Park apartments, on loitering and prowling charges Nov. 8.
Defense attorneys called character witnesses who painted the teens as upstanding kids and enterprising students with much to lose.
Frezell's mother, Chiene Frezell, said his latest arrest came on the day he was scheduled to visit Alabama State University on a recruiting trip. Frezell, a quarterback, finished the 2008 season as Gwinnett's leading passer, while Huck was the county's third-leading receiver.
"Sean's not confrontational," his mother testified. "He used to play defense, but he just doesn't have that aggression."
Steve Bouie, a federal prison officer and longtime mentor to all four suspects, became emotional at the sight of them in jail garb.
"I'm in tears now - I'm just shocked," Bouie said. "These are some good kids."
All four teens remained in the Gwinnett County Jail late Thursday afternoon.