By Tiffany Yeh
Defendant Eugene Lemasters is charged with felony second degree robbery at Bank of America, attempted second degree robbery at Wells Fargo, violation of Penal Code section 459 (burglary) at Wells Fargo, evasion of police officers, and evasion by way of driving in the opposite direction on the highway.
Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes made a dramatic opening statement, complete with expressive hand gestures. He started the story by describing the defendant’s severe gambling addiction. On 2/20/15, Mr. Lemasters had just received his paycheck, but he gambled away the whole amount in a casino in Oroville.
From his own statement, the defendant acknowledged that he did not want to tell his wife and family, who lived in Suisun City, that he had gambled away his paycheck. He sought to replace the money he lost by robbing a bank.
Davis was on the way to Suisun City, and he figured Davis was a laidback place that did not have armed guards in the banks. He hatched a plan.
He tore off a page from the owner’s manual in his car and wrote a note which went something like this: “I’m carrying a pistol and I know how to use it, put bills in it. He used a bag from the trunk of his car and put it in the back pocket of his pants.
Instead of a gun, the defendant stuck a water spray nozzle, tucked in, under his front left waistband, under his shirt. Then he walked around Davis scouting for banks. To gain courage, he took a hit of drugs. His first stop was Wells Fargo.
In the defendant’s own statement, he said that he intended to come out with money. While standing in line, he saw two male tellers there and thought to himself that getting the money will be harder because they are guys.
He had a conversation with the teller and was obviously nervous. He used to have a bank account there. When the teller asked him for his ID, the defendant abruptly got out of line and left Wells Fargo.
His next stop was Bank of America. He got in line and the teller he talked to was female and by herself. He immediately took the note he had written and handed it to her. She pressed the first alarm button discreetly before putting money into the bag he slid over the counter.
Along with the money, she put a GPS tracking device with bills on the side into the bag. The defendant ran to his car, took off his red shirt and cap and tossed it into the passenger seat. He put on a different set of clothes.
When he noticed the device in his car, he thought it just would explode ink, and did not think it was a GPS tracking device. So it was still in his car and on the floor. A four-mile car chase ensued. Stoplights and stop signs were ignored.
Cop cars with lights and sirens on chase him around downtown Davis. On 2nd street in downtown Davis, the defendant sped up to 103 mph. He tried to pass cars. Four other police officers were following him.
He was driving on the wrong side of the road and was nearly losing control of his car. At this point, one of the officers positioned his own car in front to stop the defendant’s car. At gunpoint, they confront the defendant. He confessed to everything and everything was found in his car trunk.
Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson was a little less theatrical than the DDA, but also presented a riveting story. He stated that the point of contention of this case is whether the Wells Fargo incident was a burglary and attempted robbery. He painted the defendant in a vastly more positive light than the DDA did.
The defendant is known as Leonard by his friends and family and has been married for over thirty years, with grown children. However, he has been hit with hard times. For the last twenty years, he has had problems with substance abuse, and delusional and paranoid thoughts and beliefs.
His wife separated from him, though it was not the first time they’ve separated. In February of 2015, things were looking up. He was living with his wife and kids in Suisun City and he was working. A few days before the robbery, his wife told him how proud she was of him. They kissed on the lips. That hadn’t happened for two years.
The defendant was painted as a guy that has hit hard times – after all, hasn’t everyone had some mistakes they have committed at one time or another? The next day, he gambled away his paycheck at a casino in Oroville. Panic. Fear. Irrational thoughts. These all ran through his mind. He would do anything to avoid telling his wife what he had done.
The couple had several accounts at Wells Fargo. He asked the teller if the accounts still had any money left in them. He did not make any threats, did not demand money, and gave his private information like date of birth to the teller.
The defendant did not try to conceal his identity. No money was in those accounts, so he left. After that, believing he had no other options, he wrote the note, went into Bank of America and robbed the place, trying to flee from the police.
He was interrogated by the Davis Police Department and the FBI when he was apprehended. Mr. Hutchinson asserted that the defendant had mental delusions. So when Lemasters confessed to everything, he was really relating what had happened during a supposed prior robbery he claimed to have committed in El Dorado Hills. But that supposed prior robbery never occurred. Everything was all imagined and made up in his head. This was a pure mental delusion.
The defendant’s criminal record, or lack thereof, as the deputy public defender claimed, will be disclosed in this trial. The burden is on the deputy district attorney to prove that the confessions the defendant made are admissible. The defense’s argument that the defendant has mental delusions may make it harder for jurors to believe that he went into Wells Fargo with the intent to come out with money, through attempted robbery.
The first witness, and the only one for the day, was Ms. Coaher, a senior teller at Bank of America. She has been working at the downtown Davis branch for fourteen years. On February 21, 2015, her shift was from 8:45am-1:30pm.
The bank was busy on that day. She hadn’t noticed anything unusual until the defendant came up and slid a note to her across the counter. She imitated the defendant’s expression during her testimony. She leaned her face out from her neck, widened her eyes, and said “I’d like to make a withdrawal” in the stern manner she remembers he acted. She described him as letting her know that he was serious.
He slid a piece of paper, face up, to her. Her thought was to get the defendant out of the bank as fast as possible, with as little money as possible. She told herself to be calm throughout the incident. Her eyes dropped on the counter as she read the note.
The whole time, his face was intimidating and his eyes were wide. Part of the note included the words “don’t set off any alarms… give me time to exit… and I won’t start shooting.” She did not want to alarm the customers and possibly set him off to some act of violence. She acted like he had a gun when, in reality, she did not know if he did or not.
He also slid an open satchel to her and pointed to the bag and the cash can. Ms. Coaher discreetly set off the first alarm before putting bills and the concealed GPS device within the bag. The defendant pointed to the cash can, indicating “more.” Some money fell out of the bag as she put in more money. She pushed those fallen bills to her side. The whole thing took maybe five or six minutes.
Within fifteen minutes, the police arrived at the bank and she gave them a description of the perpertrator—he had a bright red shirt and a black ball cap on, with light hair sticking out from under the cap. Later, police officers took her to a location and had her identify the man. She identified him, despite his change of clothes. He had taken approximately $1,200 and another $200 in total.
The trial resumes tomorrow at 9am, in Department 6.