Columbia Court Convicts Bank Robber, Despite Alleged Politeness

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If a bank robber robs a bank politely, is he still a bank robber?

A Boone County jury had the pleasure of debating this philosophical issue last Thursday, July 17. The facts of the case were these:

On August 28, 2008, Maurice Penny, Sr., walked into the Bank of America branch at 1729 W. Broadway in Columbia, lifted up his shirt, possibly to show off a gun, and handed a note to the teller. He left with $3,000 in cash, in $20, $50 and $100 bills, and the note, which the teller had returned to him (as a receipt?).

Penny's getaway vehicle was a bicycle, so he didn't get very far. The police apprehended him approximately eight blocks away. He had no shirt, no gun, no money and no note. He claimed he had dropped the last two items down a sewer.

With no hard evidence, the court could only speculate about the contents of the note. In the prosecution's version, Penny wrote down a threat to open fire if he didn't get his cash. The defense also claimed the note had demanded cash, but also contained the messages "Don't panic" and "Don't look up."

"It's a demand, not a threat," public defender David Wallis explained in his closing argument. If you make a demand, Wallis argued, you should only be convicted of second-degree robbery or stealing.

"It makes no sense," said prosecutor Richard Hicks in his closing argument. "How in the world can someone expect to walk into a bank, write a note that is not threatening and walk out with money?"

It only took the jury fifteen minutes to decide that Penny should not be granted clemency for maybe telling the teller not to panic. He was convicted of first-degree robbery. He will be sentenced August 24 and faces anywhere from 10 years to life in prison. Maybe he should've said "please."

Then again, the Columbia Tribune reports that Penny has a list of convictions going back 20 years, not exactly a history of good manners.


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