BANGOR, Maine — Friends of a homeless man accused of attempted robbery testified in Superior Court on Wednesday that he told them on May 31 that he planned “something big” to get money.
The next day, June 1, Jerome G. Richards II was seen by an off-duty state trooper wearing a mask and black latex gloves and walking toward the front door of a credit union in Corinth.
Richards did not go inside the bank, but the evidence shows “he took substantial steps toward the commission of the crime of robbery,” Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy said in his opening statement at the trial, which is being held at the Penobscot Judicial Center.
“This fellow was going into that bank to rob it,” and Maine State Police Trooper Brian Bean prevented it, Almy said.
Richards was arrested minutes after leaving the bank’s parking lot in a car driven by a female friend. After the car was stopped, Penobscot County sheriff’s deputies found him wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with a gray sweatshirt underneath that was backward and had two holes cut in the hood for his eyes. Deputies also found two pellet guns, one under his seat; a large knife and an extra clip for one of the guns inside the car.
Richards’ defense attorney, F. David Walker IV pointed out to jurors that it is not against the law to walk around with a mask on.
“It’s all going to boil down to this: [Does the evidence] prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s a bank robber?” Walker said in his opening statement.
The jury of three men and 11 women must decide “whether or not walking by a bank with your face obscured proves [guilt] beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Trooper Bean, Penobscot County Deputy Bobbie Pelletier, a store clerk and the driver of the car Richards rode in testified on the first day of the trial, over which Superior Court Justice S. Kirk Studstrup is presiding.
The first witness was Bean, who was with his two young children, ages 5 and 2, when he decided on June 1 to go to the Maine Savings Federal Credit Union at 4:45 p.m., just before it closed, to get some cash.
As he circled the bank, the trooper testified, he saw Richards come out from behind bushes behind the credit union.
“He had a mask over his face. I realized something wasn’t right,” he said. “His hands were in his jacket and I noticed black plastic gloves.”
Bean grabbed his cell phone and called police. He made eye contact with Richards as he continued to drive slowly around the bank and stopped facing the drive-through window, which allowed him a view of the front door. Within a minute he saw Richards — who had removed his mask — walk by heading toward the Family Dollar store, where a female friend waited for him.
Deputy Pelletier testified that he was the one who stopped the suspect car, driven by 22-year-old Katherine McCarter of Bangor, with Richards in the passenger seat still wearing the backward sweatshirt used to create the mask.
Pelletier said he found an Airsoft pellet gun, which “looked very similar to a black handgun,” under the passenger seat where Richards was sitting and a pair of black latex gloves on the console. The deputy found another pellet gun inside a blue zippered bank bag in the back seat that also held a large knife, a magazine clip for the first gun and a necktie.
McCarter testified that she met up with Richards, whom she had not seen in years, the night before the incident and they hung out and talked before she gave him a ride to fellow friend Andrew Libby’s house in Bangor, where he was staying.
During their talk, Richards “said something about doing something big to come up with money” but “he didn’t mention anything specific,” she testified.
The next day, June 1, he walked to her house and asked if she would give him a ride to outer Broadway, which she agreed to do. Later she testified they were on a marijuana run.
The two traveled out Broadway to Corinth, where they drove into and then immediately out of the Tradewinds Marketplace, then continued on Route 15 to the Family Dollar store, which is two doors down from the credit union.
The two went into the Family Dollar store, and both the clerk and McCarter testified that he was wearing a T-shirt at the time. After leaving the store, McCarter added, Richards “opened the back door of my car and put his jacket on and was shuffling around,” then said he was going to meet someone at a brown house.
“When he started walking away I saw him putting [the gloves] on,” she said, adding that she thought it was strange.
He was gone “maybe five minutes” and returned to the car, “saying the guy wasn’t there,” said McCarter, who added later that “he said he saw the guy’s father and he was looking at him weird and that made him want to leave.”
When her car was stopped, she said, she was surprised and thought maybe she had been speeding.
Almy asked McCarter, “If Mr. Richards had told you in advance that he was going to rob something, would you have given him a ride?”
“No,” she said.
The second day of testimony in the trial is scheduled for Thursday morning.