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Court says unarmed bank heist qualifies as robbery

The Missouri Supreme Court said Wednesday that an unarmed man who stole money from a bank without directly threatening the use of force is nonetheless guilty of second-degree robbery.

Claude Dale Brooks argued that the state could only convict him of the lesser offense of stealing. But in a unanimous ruling, Judge Zel Fischer said Brooks’ actions were inherently threatening.

“Banks are regular targets of robberies, and their employees have a heightened awareness of security threats,” Fischer wrote. “A demand for money in that context is an implicit threat of the use of force in and of itself.”

According to court records, Brooks entered a Regions Bank in St. Charles in 2011 wearing a wig with dreadlocks, a baseball cap and sunglasses, and handed the teller a note saying: “Fifties, hundreds, no bait money and bottom drawer.” When the teller tried to move to a different cash drawer, he slammed his hand on the counter and said, “Get back here.”

“This conduct coupled with his specific demands regarding money implies an immediate consequence should she have ignored him,” Fischer wrote.

The case was argued Oct. 1, just a day after the Court of Appeals Western District issued a split ruling in a similar case, which was subsequently transferred to the Supreme Court. The Western District had ruled that Gary Leland Coleman was only guilty of stealing from a Callaway County bank because he didn’t use force. Coleman’s case was still pending in the Supreme Court on Thursday, according to online court records.

The cases are State v. Brooks, SC94154, and State v. Coleman, SC94554.