Bob Schneider, who served as Juror No.10 in the Eugene Lemasters trial, told the Vanguard that in the opening statements made by Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson, they acknowledged that Mr. Lemasters had committed the bank robbery of Bank of America and had fled the police in the high speed chase – but they did not admit any crime at Wells Fargo Bank.
“I don’t know what motive the prosecuting attorney had to bring those very iffy charges to a full court trial,” he said. “My feeling was this could have been, should have been settled out in prelim and justice would have been served in that regard.”
“That was my initial response after the opening remarks and I think that was proven through the trial,” Mr. Schneider stated.
Eugene Lemasters admitted to robbing the Davis Bank of America and then taking police on a high speed chase through town. However, that wasn’t enough for prosecutors. In a recorded interview with Detective Ron Trn, Mr. Lemasters admitted to entering the Wells Fargo with the intent to rob it.
However, Mr. Lemasters left the bank without incident and then would shortly thereafter enter the Bank of America, present the teller with a note and use a hose nozzle under his clothing to insinuate a gun.
The attorneys agreed that Mr. Lemasters committed the robbery at Bank of America and the subsequent flight from police, but the stop at Wells Fargo remained at issue. The jury found Mr. Lemasters not guilty on the charge of attempted robbery there, and they hung 9-3 in favor of acquittal on the burglary charge.
The charge of burglary stemmed from whether Mr. Lemasters entered the Wells Fargo in Davis with the intent to commit a crime. The Wells Fargo surveillance video was less than clear. There was no visible note, and he did not appear to have the hose nozzle which he used in the Bank of America incident.
Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson argued in his closing that the Lemasters family had several accounts with Wells Fargo. He argued that it is possible that Mr. Lemasters, in his desperate state, attempted to withdraw money from one of these accounts before he resorted to bank robbery elsewhere.
The Vanguard spoke with Bob Schneider, who is a long time Davis resident and was a member of the jury. Mr. Schneider is best known for his conservancy work as director of Tuleyome and other local organizations.
Bob Schneider’s view was that Mr. Lemasters “clearly made no effort to rob Wells Fargo Bank.” His fellow jurors would agree in quickly reaching a not-guilty verdict on that charge. “There was no action that he took.”
“In the video (he) took no action – he didn’t present a note, he didn’t say anything,” he said. “The manager at the time, of the branch, he testified that he didn’t take any action to rob Wells Fargo bank.”
On the other hand, “The DA’s entire case rested on the defendant’s confession in which he confessed to the Bank of America robbery, he confessed to the reckless driving, he confessed to a Bank Robbery in El Dorado Hills,” he said.
The El Dorado County robbery, however, couldn’t be verified by either the Davis Police Detective or the El Dorado Hills Police Detective. The FBI, he said, “Didn’t come testify, but the fact that they didn’t come testify to me was clearly evidence that nobody verified the robbery.”
“I just think that (the El Dorado Hills robbery) didn’t occur and it’s indicative of a person that had a gambling addiction, used meth, had probably been up all night, robbed a bank, tried to be as cooperative as he could but just had this bank robbery in his mind that I don’t think ever existed,” Bob Schneider explained.
But it was in this confession, where “he said that he could have robbed the Wells Fargo Bank but it wasn’t a good situation because there were two people there that were tellers. And that was the sole evidence as I understand it, that the prosecuting attorney was really relying on.”
“There are lots of other explanations (for why he might have been in the bank), and there was no corroborating evidence whatsoever other than the confession,” Mr. Schneider continued. “In the Judge’s instructions he said unless there’s corroborating evidence you can’t just rely on (the confession).”
Bob Schneider said everyone agreed that, if there was no action taken, there was no attempted robbery. The burglary charge was a little murkier because it relies on him entering the bank with the intent to commit a crime. Nine jurors including Mr. Schneider ultimately believed that there was not enough evidence to prove that either.
For Mr. Schneider, once again, “the only evidence was his confession because when he walked into the bank, he went over and talked to the tellers about accounts that his family had there. He may have been thinking ‘maybe I don’t have to do a bank robbery, maybe there’s some money in these other accounts.’”
“That’s one explanation,” he said. “And maybe he just threw out that comment in his confession. That was an ambiguous comment that he made also. There was certainly plenty of doubt and, as the judge said that you want to be able to wake up in a week and say you had no doubt, in this case, there was plenty of doubt.”
Bob Schneider was not certain why three jurors held out for guilt. He speculated that perhaps it was because he made the confession and walked into the bank. But, from the perspective of the other nine jurors, that was not corroborating evidence.
For Bob Schneider this was a case about a man with a gambling addiction. He believes he tried to find a way out and hoped that maybe his relatives had money in the bank.
But 15 minutes or so later, Mr. Lemasters entered the Bank of America, he had a water nozzle under his shirt which could have appeared to be a gun, he had a note which he presented to the teller, and, in this case, “there was no doubt whatsoever that he was robbing the bank.” In Well Fargo there was no note, no “weapon” and no bag for the money.
From Mr. Schneider’s standpoint, there was a large amount of doubt about the intentions of Mr. Lemasters in Wells Fargo. He felt like this case could have been resolved based on what the two sides agreed upon – that Mr. Lemasters robbed the Bank of America and recklessly drove to attempt escape.
—David M. Greenwald reporting