Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Court Upholds Conviction in Bank Robbery (Using Gasoline) Case

US v. Midgett: How's this for a statement of facts:
Around 12:30 on the afternoon of October 19, 1999, J.W. Shaw, a construction worker, was sitting in a van eating lunch at his worksite in Charlotte, North Carolina, when another van pulled up on his driver’s side. Defendant Paul Midgett was the driver of this second van, and his girlfriend, Theresa Russell, was a passenger. Midgett emerged from his van, walked over to Shaw, doused Shaw with gasoline from a large fast-food drink cup, and demanded that Shaw hand over his wallet. Shaw complied with this demand, but Midgett nonetheless proceeded to ignite the gasoline, setting Shaw on fire. Shaw suffered burns that caused him to be hospitalized and miss between six and seven weeks of work.

After fleeing the scene of the attack on Shaw, Midgett and Russell decided to rob a bank. They stopped at a gas station and filled an empty Dr. Pepper soda bottle with gasoline. Midgett and Russell then drove to a BB&T bank branch in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Midgett told Russell that he planned to enter the bank, demand money from a teller, and, if his demand was refused, douse the teller with gasoline and ignite it.
Midgett carried through with the bank robbery plan, making off with approximately $3000. He was tried and convicted on charges of malicious damage to property used in interstate commerce resulting in personal injury (Count 1), bank robbery by force or violence (Count 2), and putting in jeopardy the life of another by use of a dangerous weapon or device in committing a bank robbery by force or violence (Count 3). On the malicious damage charge he received a sentence of 360 months, with concurrent life sentences on the other two counts.

Midgett made several arguments on appeal, challenging both his conviction and sentences, which were all save one briefly dealt with and rejected by the Fourth Circuit.

The court rejected Midgett's arguments that the district court erred when it (1) denied his pretrial request to plead guilty to Count 2, (2) denied his motion for judgment of acquittal on Count 3, (3) allowed him to be placed in leg restraints during his trial, (4) denied his request for injections of the painkiller Nubain (even though medical science says the condition Midgett claimed to have did not cause pain), (5) excluded from evidence an exculpatory letter allegedly written by his coconspirator and onetime girlfriend and limiting the use of other letters also purportedly written by her to impeachment, (6) limited the direct examination of Midgett; (7) limited Midgett’s cross-examination of his girlfriend, and (8) acted out of bias against Midgett.

As to sentences, court rejected Midgett’s argument that the district court erred in declining to continue his sentencing hearing and contravened his constitutional rights in enhancing his sentences on Counts 2 and 3 based on his prior convictions. However, the court did agree that the district erred in imposing separate sentences on Counts 2 and 3, as one was a lesser included offense of the other, vacated the sentences on those counts, and remanded for resentencing.

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