Man who took part in ‘Backdoor Bandit’ armed robbery series sentenced to more than 14 years

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – One of four people who participated in a series of armed holdups at restaurants and other businesses in Clairemont and La Jolla last year was sentenced Tuesday to 14 years and four months in state prison.

Ryan Patrick Churchill, 23, pleaded guilty last month to 13 charges, including robbery and attempted robbery.

Deputy District Attorney Jalyn Wang said 13 businesses were robbed by the quartet between May and August 2013, including the El Cotixan restaurant on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Rigoberto’s Taco Shop on La Jolla Boulevard near Westbourne Street and Roberto’s Taco Shop on Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach.

In all, 27 people were victimized, Wang said. Judge Charles Rogers ordered restitution to a number of victims totaling about $5,000.

The judge empathized with the victims, noting their vulnerability as a gun was stuck in their face as they were being robbed.

“You wonder if you’re going to die even if you comply with the robber’s demands,” the judge said.

Churchill — who had dreams of being a lifeguard or a firefighter — said he was desperate for money when he took part in the holdups.

“I feel absolutely horrible and disgusted with myself,” Churchill told the judge. “It’s not the way I want to live.”

Churchill said he would be happy to be made an example of because of what he’s done, and he apologized to the victims for the trauma he put them through.

Churchill, Duran Caldwell, Thomas Abel Nelson and a 17-year-old boy were arrested in August 2013 during a traffic stop not far from the scene of an armed robbery at a Smashburger restaurant on Prospect Avenue in La Jolla.

Inside the defendants’ car, officers found dark clothing, a black Airsoft semi-automatic replica handgun, a backpack filled with cash and a cashbox from Smashburger.

All defendants in the case have pleaded guilty.

Caldwell was sentenced to eight years behind bars. Nelson and the juvenile are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 8.

The “Backdoor Bandits” moniker stemmed from the way the thieves almost always entered businesses through a rear door, according to San Diego police.

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