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Investigator: Suspects in home invasion demanded ‘weed, money and everything’
2 of 3 men charged in robbery appear in court
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Jose Rodriguez Escobar enters Hall County Magistrate Court Monday, April 11, 2022, for his committal hearing in a March 27 home invasion in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

When two masked and armed men entered a Gainesville apartment Sunday, March 27, one of the residents asked if it was some sort of joke.

It wasn’t. 

One of the suspects fired a round from a high-powered rifle that went through the wall and out of the North Cliff Colony Drive apartment.

Christopher Aroni Hernandez Belazques, 22, and Jose Javier Rodriguez Escobar, 22, of Roswell, appeared Monday, April 11, in Magistrate Court for a preliminary hearing on home invasion charges.

A third man, Victor Lazo, 21, of Roswell, was also charged, but he and his attorney did not appear in court Monday.

Gainesville Police Investigator Terry Barnes testified Monday that he was the on-call investigator when a 911 call came around 3:30 p.m. March 27 from the Vista Ridge at Lake Lanier Apartments.

Police said the residents of the apartment were expecting someone when two masked men appeared, with one carrying a rifle and the other armed with a pistol.

The five victims told police that the home invasion suspects “initially demanded weed, money and everything,” Barnes said.

Barnes said Air Jordan sneakers, a PS5 controller, cellphones and a wallet were taken.

Before Barnes got to the scene, the suspects had left in a two-door Honda.

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Christopher Aroni Hernandez Belazques sits in Hall County Magistrate Court Monday, April 11, 2022, for his committal hearing for a March 27 home invasion in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Two independent witnesses told law enforcement they saw two Hispanic men get into a car.

“They saw someone was yelling, saying, ‘Get in the car. Hurry up. Hurry up,’” Barnes testified.

The victim who had his sneakers stolen took out his phone and recorded the suspects leaving, which gave Barnes the vehicle’s tag.

Roswell Police Department officers received a be-on-the-lookout notice just before 4 p.m. March 27 about a blue two-door Honda Accord involved in the Gainesville case.

A Roswell officer saw that Escobar, the registered owner, had an address in Roswell.

Around 4:39 p.m. March 27, Roswell officers were notified over the radio that a car matching the description was seen on Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell.

An officer stopped the vehicle, and the three men were detained.

After executing a search warrant on the car, law enforcement found Air Jordan sneakers, a PS5 controller, two cellphones, a wallet and a firearm.

The defense attorneys for Belazques and Escobar focused their cross-examination of Barnes on how their clients were identified as the suspects in the home invasion and their entry into the home.

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Jose Rodriguez Escobar looks to the back of Hall County Magistrate Court Monday, April 11, 2022, during his committal hearing in a March 27 home invasion in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Barnes said at this point he could not say for sure who entered the apartment.

Defense attorney Gene Parris asked how the victims could determine the masked suspects were Hispanic.

“I guess because (the victim) is around, in the Hispanic area I guess,” Barnes said, adding that multiple victims in this case are Hispanic. “That’s the only way I could determine on how they assumed they were Hispanic.”

Barnes also testified that one of the victims said he could see part of the suspects’ faces despite the mask.

Law enforcement recovered a shell for a 7.62 caliber rifle round, but the rifle has not been found. Barnes speculated that there was enough time for the suspects to discard the rifle, adding that their route took them near Lake Lanier.

The defense attorneys asked Judge Michelle Hall to dismiss the charges against their clients, arguing there was not enough evidence tying them to the crime. The attorneys also argued that there was no force used to get in. 

Saying she believed the prosecution met the burden of probable cause, Hall moved the case for all three men on to Superior Court as charged.