2017-08-03 / Courts

Appeals Court declines case; bank robbery trial coming next

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

Evidence that includes four diversionary phone calls in two Benzie County bank robberies will be allowed in the armed robbery trial of William F. Minore, 70, the man accused of sticking up the Huntington Bank in Empire.

Leelanau County prosecutors believe that evidence shows that Minore committed all three armed robberies using the same gun, the same type of disguise and the same method, which included calling 9-1-1 to report school shootings and robberies in progress as a way to divert police away from the two banks he allegedly hit.

The Michigan Court of Appeals last week denied Minore’s application to appeal as he failed to persuade the court of the need for immediate appellate review, according to presiding Judge Stephen L. Borrello.

Minore’s trial has been on hold for several months until the appeals court could decide whether to hear his case regarding how much evidence from two similar bank robberies committed in April and December 2015 at the Honor State Bank in Lake Ann can be admitted.

A new trial date has not yet been set for Minore, who has rejected all plea offers.

Minore has been in the Leelanau County Jail on a $1 million cash/surety bond since his September arrest. He is charged with armed robbery, unlawful driving away of an automobile and felony firearm in connection with the Sept. 7 Empire bank robbery.

In that robbery, a man Leelanau County prosecutors believe is Minore stole a Kia Soul from Glen Arbor and drove it to Empire to rob the bank before returning the vehicle to Glen Arbor.

The man, dressed in black and wearing a ski mask, walked through the front door of the bank armed with a silver handgun and demanded money. After getting $36,966, the man left the bank through a back door.

The money, which included about $200 in $2 bills, has never been recovered.

Minore’s attorney, William G. Burdette, has said that there is no evidence linking Minore to the Lake Ann robberies.

“The only thing they have is the 9-1-1 calls they claim are his voice,” Burdette said.

But in his answer to the appeal, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Doug Donaldson wrote that the breathing pattern, stuttering speech and panting heard in calls made before the Lake Ann robberies is identical to the two calls made before the Empire robbery.

Several witnesses have also come forward, including Minore’s sister and children, to identify the voice as Minore’s.

And all of the calls were made on throw away or ‘burner’ phones.

Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas G. Power had ruled that the ‘prior bad act’ evidence is admissible to establish Minore’s identity, as well as a common “modus operandi” in the three bank robberies.

But Burdette said that in cases where that type of evidence has been allowed the evidence is substantial, such as a confession, physical evidence or an eye witness.

“They don’t have that here,” Burdette said. “They have no physical evidence or any evidence connecting him to the Empire crime or the Lake Ann crimes.”

Prosecutors say the short-barreled .38 revolver seen in surveillance videos of both the Lake Ann robberies and in Empire is identical to one registered to Minore, though Minore has told police that he sold the gun to someone in a parking lot at a local gun store.

A hand grenade like one that was brandished in one of the Lake Ann robberies was also found in Minore’s vehicle during a search done after his arrest — something Donaldson wrote “seems far more than coincidental.”

Donaldson also cites the proximity of both banks to Minore’s Benzonia home; both banks were about 20 miles from his home.

And finally, there are “stark similarities” in the eye areas between photographs of Minore taken while in custody and those of the masked bank robber, where only the eyes and the skin around them can be seen.

Evidence also includes videos of a Kia being driven into and out of Empire at times that line up with the time of the robbery, though the driver can’t be identified in the film.

Burdette has 21 days to appeal the Michigan Court of Appeals decision and said he doesn’t yet know if he’ll do that.

Allowing the prior bad acts evidence violates the rules of evidence and is highly prejudicial, Burdette said, and will cause substantial harm to his client.

He said he filed the interlocutory appeal before the trial, as filing appeals after the fact — if Minore is convicted — could take three to four years. Given that Minore is already 70 years old, that’s too long, Burdette said.

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