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Two of four suspects in Magnolia Elementary bomb hoax plead guilty

From Trussville Tribune staff reports

BIRMINGHAM – A brother and sister have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to rob a Trussville bank by placing a hoax bomb at aMagnolia Elementary School to divert police.

Quinese Nichole Nichols, 30, of Birmingham, entered her plea Wednesday before U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala to conspiracy to take money from a BBVA Compass Bank in Trussville by “force, violence and intimidation” on Nov. 16. She also pleaded guilty to conspiring to carry a firearm in furtherance of bank robbery. Her sentencing date has not been set.

Quinese Nichols’ brother, Wendell Roy Nichols, Jr., 27, also of Birmingham, pleaded guilty to the bank robbery conspiracy last week. His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 16.

The Nichols are among four people charged in the conspiracy to rob the Trussville bank by drawing the city’s police to Magnolia Elementary School by placing a hoax bomb at the school while it was in session.

Zachary Edwards, 35, and Ralphel Maurie Edwards, 34, are the remaining defendants and are scheduled for trial in July. The Edwards lived together but are not related. Both face the bank robbery conspiracy charge.

Zachary Edwards also faces the charge of conspiracy to carry a firearm in furtherance of bank robbery, and two counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm – a Ruger 9mm semi-automatic pistol on Nov. 16, and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun on Nov. 21.

Zachary Edwards was convicted in Jefferson County Circuit Court in April 2000 of assault, first degree, and discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling, according to the indictment.

According to court records, Zachary and Ralphel Edwards and Quinese Nichols discussed plans to rob a bank. Soon thereafter, Zachary and Ralphel Edwards obtained a cardboard box, a stopwatch, strands of wire, gunpowder, Play-Doh and duct tape, which Zachary Edwards used to construct a hoax explosive device.

On Nov. 16, Zachary Edwards and Quinese Nichols drove to Magnolia Elementary School in Trussville, where Zachary Edwards placed the hoax device on the hood of a truck in the school’s parking lot. He then called 911 and, while disguising his voice, falsely reported to Trussville Police that he had just seen a Hispanic male place a suspicious package on a vehicle at the school.

Armed with the Ruger pistol, the two then drove to a parking lot near the Compass Bank on Chalkville Mountain Road, which they had visited two days earlier to familiarize themselves with the location. Ralphel Edwards and Wendell Nichols were parked nearby in separate vehicles to serve as lookouts for their co-conspirators.

Zachary Edwards and Quinese Nichols left Trussville without attempting to rob the bank after seeing what they believed to be a police officer close to where they were parked near the bank.

The maximum penalty for the bank robbery conspiracy is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for conspiracy to possess a firearm during a violent crime is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the maximum penalty for being a felon in possession of a firearm is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The ATF investigated the case in conjunction with Trussville Police and the Alabama State Fire Marshal’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys William G. Simpson and Michael A. Royster are prosecuting the case.

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