A Lawrence police detective testified at a preliminary hearing Wednesday that a bank robbery suspect told him that he had been having money problems and that he wasn’t a violent person.
“He seemed genuinely sorry about what had occurred,” said Detective M.T. Brown, who interviewed Elliot R. Werner, 26, who was arrested Nov. 30, 2011, from under a porch near Ninth and Mississippi streets after he was accused of robbing Central National Bank, 603 W. Ninth St.
Three bank employees testified Wednesday about how bank security staff members had been on high alert and working with police for months after the bank was robbed in July. Bank employees on Nov. 25 noticed a suspicious man wearing a heavy jacket and a ski mask walking away south of the bank after they heard a door open but didn’t notice anyone come inside. They also noticed the same man walking outside near the bank around noon Nov. 30.
About three hours later, with an undercover police officer inside the bank’s lobby, the man, who wore a heavy jacket with a hood over his head and large aviator sunglasses, entered the south door of the bank and with one hand in his pocket. He approached two bank tellers.
“He told us that he had a gun and to throw big bills as quick as we could into the bag,” teller Steven Bauer testified during Wednesday’s hearing.
The tellers, who had also pressed their silent alarms, placed several thousand dollars into a sack the robber provided before the suspect left the south door of the bank. During that time a police officer drove up from the south on Louisiana Street in an attempt to stop the suspect, who ran back to the west and eluded the undercover officer who was inside the bank during the robbery.
Brown said officers later apprehended Werner in the area. Brown also said Werner had admitted to at least two earlier occasions going near the bank with intent to rob it but “he lost his nerve.” Werner also told police he did not have a gun during the Nov. 30 robbery.
Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone said he expected to order Werner to face a trial on at least one count of robbery, but there is a legal question whether he can face two robbery counts. Prosecutors argue Werner should because they allege two bank tellers handed over money. Attorneys will also argue whether Werner should face a trial for an attempted robbery count for the Nov. 25 incident.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson has said prosecutors also suspect Werner robbed the same bank months earlier the afternoon of July 14, 2011, and they hope to charge him in that case later. Werner is next due in court June 22.