Prosecutor: Plain bank heist planned months before 2014 robbery
MADISON – Plans to rob a Plain bank were hatched in the Dane County Jail months before two masked men took $67,771 at gunpoint, a federal prosecutor told jurors Monday.
Julian Thomas, 40, of Madison, was in jail in the spring of 2014 when he told an inmate about his plans to rob a small-town bank, Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey Stephan said at the start of an expected two-day trial.
Stephan also told the jurors that Thomas later told a second inmate about the plan, saying he needed a “good solider” to assist him who would stay quiet, and a woman addicted to heroin would be the getaway driver.
Thomas had sold heroin a few times to a Madison woman and she agreed to drive him around town while he was out of jail that summer. A man just out of prison on a drug conviction recommended Thomas contact James Thompson about helping with the robbery for a share of the proceeds, and Thompson agreed.
Stephan said not knowing she was driving two men to a bank, the Madison woman drove the two men to Plain on Oct. 7, 2014. She was thinking it probably involved a heroin deal. She parked her minivan across the street from the People’s Community Bank, as told by Thomas, and waited while the two men went inside.
After a few minutes, the men came running out of the bank, with Thomas carrying a large bag of cash.
She was told to “go, go,” and headed south out of town.
Seeking to cast doubt among jurors about Stephan’s portrayal of events during opening statements, defense attorney Kelly Welsh questioned the driver’s motivations for providing information to investigators and their desire to close the case quickly.
Thompson “did home invasions,” before the bank job and the man who offered police the first information about the robbers “was not at the bank.” The woman driver had prior drug convictions and cooperated with police so she wouldn’t have her children taken from her, Kelly Welsh, Thomas’ attorney told jurors.
“It was a horrific bank robbery and a big deal for the little village of Plain and police were anxious to get somebody for it,” Welsh said.
Stephan, the prosecutor, said inside the bank, Thomas and Thompson had donned masks and were dressed in black from head to toe. Thompson held the gun on two tellers and told them to empty the cash drawers. Thomas got the manager to enter the vault and grab as much money as possible.
Thomas lined up the three employees and sprayed each in the face with pepper spray.
“They felt like their eyes were burning out of their head,” Stephan said.
Welsh said the fact the men wore masks and could not be identified based on bank surveillance of the robbery, left the government with little proof and a lot doubt about her client’s alleged involvement in the crime.
“Yes, he sold some drugs, stole and used some credit cards,” Welsh said. “You may not like him by the end of the trial but that doesn’t make him a bank robber.”
A $50,000 reward offered by the Wisconsin Bankers Association prompted a Madison man to tell police about the bank robbery plans he heard about, though he did not know the man’s real name.
Eventually, police connected the woman driver, Thomas and Thompson to the robbery and the two men were indicted in May 2016.
Thompson pleaded guilty last week to armed bank robbery and agreed to testify against Thomas.
Stephan told jurors that cell phone records, people who heard Thomas’ robbery plans and testimony of the woman driver will convince them that Thomas committed the robbery.
Thomas’ attorney told jurors that there is no DNA or fingerprint evidence tying her client to the crime, and witness testimony will be tainted by their criminal records or addictions.