Grandmother begged for her life in Rock Hill knife robbery; passing jogger ‘saved her’

The homeless ex-con who robbed a terrified grandmother at knifepoint last year in downtown Rock Hill because he “heard voices in his head” before a “Good Samaritan” helped thwart the attack was sentenced to 17 years in prison Tuesday.

Danny Thomas Brown, 59, who spent three stretches in prison in the past three decades for armed robberies, burglary and other crimes, pleaded guilty but mentally ill Tuesday to the July armed robbery during a hearing at the Moss Justice Center in York.

Brown had been in jail since July on armed robbery, kidnapping and weapons charges, but the kidnapping was dropped as part of a plea deal.

Brown accosted the grandmother at knifepoint in her car in a parking lot near the Wells Fargo branch at Main Street and Dave Lyle Boulevard in downtown Rock Hill around 8 a.m. July 13, and stole $52 from her purse, 16th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Ryan Newkirk said in court.

Brown then forced the woman to a nearby ATM, where he told her she had to withdraw money, Newkirk said. But a female jogger, whom Newkirk called a real-life “Good Samaritan,” saw what was happening as she ran by and shouted out, then called police to report the crime.

Brown’s attorney said his client was living on a park bench at the time of the crime after going off his medications for schizophrenia.

Brown was tackled by police a block from the scene, in the Rotunda at Rock Hill City Hall. City Hall is next to the Rock Hill Police Department, a block from the crime scene.

The victim, who is not being identified by The Herald, was in court, but did not speak.

Newkirk called the attack a “stranger crime, the rarest and most shocking kind of crime.”

The victim told Brown to “take everything” and begged for her life while being held at knifepoint, Newkirk said.

The victim was “terrified” and “in fear for her life” during the assault, Newkirk said. The jogger who happened by stopped Brown’s assault, Newkirk said.

“The victim wants to thank this woman publicly; she saved her life,” said Newkirk.

Brown said little in court Tuesday, except that he “caught himself” after the attack and ran toward the police department.

“When I had did it, I caught myself a little bit, and I ran toward the police department. I ran to ‘em (police), and they caught me at city hall,” Brown said in court.

Brown was released from prison in 2011 after a 15-year sentence for two armed robberies, following prison stretches for other crimes in which he served five- and 10-year prison terms.

Brown’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Mark McKinnon, said Brown had no trouble with the law for five years after his release. But Brown stopped taking medication for his mental disorder sometime in 2016, and then became homeless, McKinnon said.

McKinnon said Brown told him: “I heard voices in my head telling me to rob this lady, but I could not say no.”

After resuming his medications, Brown became “horrified at his own actions,” during the robbery, McKinnon said.