Jewelry store robbery uncovers major issue in Ga. prison

by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - The investigation into two violent jewelry store robberies has uncovered a major problem inside a Georgia prison.

Prosecutors said the mastermind planned the robberies from inside his prison cell using smuggled cellphones.

Gwinnett County investigators said this entire case was an eye-opener and something needs to change.

"None of us had experienced anything like this," said Sgt. John Wilbanks, of the Gwinnett County Police Department.

He told Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh police did their job.

Deuntria Lyons was off the streets serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery, but the confines of Georgia's Smith State Prison didn't stop him.

"It was almost disbelief that somebody inside prison, serving a sentence for armed robbery, is now coordinating other armed robberies," Wilbanks said.

Gwinnett County police and the District Attorney's prosecutors brought this story to Channel 2 Action News because they hope it will be a wake-up call.

They said Lyons continued his crime spree because prepaid cellphones are readily available behind bars.

"He sent text messages on where he wanted these guys to be, where to meet up, what he wanted them to do," said Detective David Brucz.

In the first robbery, thieves shoved customers to the ground inside Barrons Fine Jewelry in Snellville in February 2011.

A month later, a crew used hammers to smash the cases and attack customers at Tara Fine Jewelry in Buford.

Investigators said Lyons arrange to have the loot pawned and fenced.

Eventually, police traced the stolen property to a relative.

When they questioned Lyons, they said he was wearing a cellphone-watch.

Once in the Gwinnett County jail, investigators said he openly spoke about another cellphone with another prison inmate on recorded jail lines.

"The victims should have felt safe at that point that he would serve his time and wouldn't victimize anybody else," said Assistant District Attorney Mike Morrison.

We reached out the Georgia Department of Corrections. A spokesperson sent a statement saying; "The Georgia Department of Corrections does not tolerate contraband and takes serious its mission to protect the public and run safe and secure facilities."

We are working to arrange an interview with the commissioner of the Department of Corrections on Thursday.

Yesterday, a judge sentenced Lyons to six consecutive life sentences, plus 20 years for the robberies he planned.