But when he was told the store wasn't hiring, he returned moments later with a handgun and demanded money, authorities said. It was a demand that resulted in him running from the store after being shot and wounded by the co-owner.
James, 31, of 413 Elmdale Court pleaded no contest in Lucas County Common Pleas Court Wednesday to one count of aggravated robbery with a gun specification and one count of having a firearm as a felon. He also admitted in court that he violated his community control on previous felony cases when he committed the crime.
James faces up to 18 years in prison on the new charges plus time for violating probation. Judge Frederick McDonald set an Oct. 26 sentencing date.
According to Assistant County Prosecutor Jevne Meader, James entered Allied Music, 2025 South Byrne Rd., at about noon March 12 and asked the clerk if the store was hiring. When told no, the suspect left, only to return a few minutes later with a handgun that he pointed at the employee's head while demanding $200 in cash, Mr. Meader said.
At the time, Eric Bilger, a co-owner of the store who has a license to carry a concealed weapon, was in the back of the store. The employee led James to the back of the store, at which time he alerted Mr. Bilger that he needed "some help out here."
"Mr. Bilger saw the defendant with the gun pointed at [the employee's] head," Mr. Meader said, adding that Mr. Bilger said he thought he was going to be shot at when he "opened fire on the defendant."
James fled from the store and collapsed nearby. He had been shot in the right wrist, right forearm, and left hip.
James was hospitalized at the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital.
He was released on March 14.
The incident occurred less than two weeks after James was released from electronic monitoring on a previous felony case.
According to court records, James was sentenced in March, 2001, to 10 years in prison after entering pleas in two aggravated robbery cases. After denying several requests, Judge James Jensen granted James judicial release on Oct. 2, 2009, after he had served most of his sentence.
At the time, Judge Jensen ordered James to four years of community control including 60 days in work release followed by 90 days on electronic monitoring. He was released from electronic monitoring Feb. 27.
According to court officials, James had 104 days left to serve on his sentence.
Mr. Meader said the gun used by James during the incident could not undergo testing as evidence because one of the rounds fired by Mr. Bilger struck the trigger mechanism.
Mr. Bilger, who authorities said was defending his store and the employee, was not charged. He did not attend the hearing.
"This case was about Steve James," Mr. Meader said after the court hearing. "Mr. Bilger defended his employee, he defended his business, and the state feels he was within his rights to do that."
At the time of the incident, Mr. Bilger's brother and business partner, Mark Bilger, said his brother decided to get a concealed-carry license after the store had been burglarized. Mr. Bilger practiced target shooting for months, his brother added.
As part of the negotiated plea, one count of aggravated robbery with a gun specification will be dismissed. Mr. Meader said it was likely that the sentences for the two robbery charges would have been merged.
Because James faces mandatory time in prison, Judge McDonald revoked his bond and ordered him to remain in custody at the Lucas County jail.
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