The videos by themselves are unremarkable.
One clip shows a handgun being placed in a car’s glove box. A second clip shows a large wad of cash. Together, the social media videos add up to less than a minute and the edited version is less than 20 seconds.
But those clips played a small but pivotal role breaking a case against two men who robbed three stores in less than an hour last year in Merced County.
The short videos were posted to Gregory Lowery’s Instagram account just hours after he and Bryan Green robbed two stores in Merced and one in Winton in 2016, according to law enforcement officials.
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The armed spree got started around 12:30 p.m. April 11, 2016, when Lowery and Green swiped cash from a store clerk at the K&K Oriental Market on Main Street in Merced. They struggled with a store clerk outside the market but managed to get away, according to Merced Police Department reports obtained by the Merced Sun-Star.
About 15 minutes later, they forced customers to the ground at gunpoint inside U-Save Market on Yosemite Parkway. They took money from the register and threatened to kill a store employee, striking him on the head with a handgun barrel, police said.
About an hour later, two armed men, later identified as Lowery and Green, robbed the Super 8 Market on North Winton Way.
Merced police and Merced County sheriff’s deputies worked with the officers assigned to the Merced Area Gang and Narcotics Enforcement Team, dubbed MAGNET. Moses Nelson, a Merced officer assigned to the specialty unit, identified Green and Lowery from store surveillance videos later that same day, Sgt. Rod Court said.
Both men had history with law enforcement and Nelson, a veteran investigator, recognized them immediately.
“So we knew who we were looking for right away,” Court said.
Finding the two suspects, however, was harder.
The following day, officers served a search warrant at Green’s home on Main Street, but he wasn’t there. At the home, investigators learned Lowery and Green had just purchased two cars — a silver 2003 Saab coupe and a gold 2001 Jaguar sedan — just hours after the robbery.
Around that same time, an analyst working for MAGNET stumbled upon Lowery’s Instagram account. Investigators found the two short clips showing a gun believed to have been used in the robberies and a roll of cash also believed to have been connected.
Neither video shows anybody’s face.
But the videos provided an additional piece of helpful evidence — the site’s “geotag” location feature showed investigators Lowery was posting videos of the evidence from a neighborhood in South Sacramento, Court said.
MAGNET officers worked with deputies from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, Court said, setting up undercover surveillance outside an apartment on Stockton Boulevard.
An officer spotted Lowery in a car outside the apartments on April 13, 2016, two days after the robberies. He was arrested after a traffic stop. Green surrendered to authorities the morning after Lowery was captured, Court said.
Both men eventually were convicted in all three robberies following a jury trial in August. They were sentenced to lengthy prison terms last month, with Green ordered to serve 41 years in custody and Lowery was sentenced to 24 years.
Prosecutors and investigators said the videos themselves were relatively insignificant pieces of evidence in the whole case.
“But just posting those videos shows a brazenness that you rarely see,” said Mathew Martinez, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case.
Martinez played the short clips for the jury during the trial in August.
“They weren’t really hugely important pieces of evidence,” Martinez said, “but they certainly were the final nail in the coffin.”
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482