The ABCNews.com Law and Justice front page currently features an article, dramatically titled "Will Steal For Food: Crisis Creates Criminals." On that same page, alleged bank robber Bruce Windsor is featured in an orange jumpsuit above a caption that reads: "In poor economy, police have arrested a rash of atypical alleged bank robbers."
If you click on that story, you will get to read about a grand total of three bank robberies supporting the authors' main point that "[a]cross the country, seemingly upstanding citizens like Windsor are being accused of committing crimes just to pay the bills."
Starting with Bruce Windsor, ABC goes out of its way to describe him as a "church deacon," but gives little explanation for his crime other than to save his real estate company which had fallen on hard times. ABC describes Windsor as a father of four with no criminal record. And criminal defense attorney Thomas Mesereau commented that, "[c]learly the defense will try to bring in that this person acted out of character, that something had to have gone wrong." ABC concludes, based upon scant facts, that the economy must have been the "something" that went wrong for Windsor, rather than the more typical motive for bank robberies: greed.
ABC allows Windsor to play his own sympathy card in the article, quoting his courtroom testimony:
"This doesn't even register. I'm just ill," Windsor told a judge in a subsequent court appearance. "I've never stolen anything in my life."
ABC's second bank robber is Keith Giammanco, sympathetically described as the father of 17-year-old twins who lost "everything in the stock market." Giammanco "allegedly sacrificed everything to buy his daughters nice things and keep them in private school." And one of Giammanco's daughter's heroically described him as "Robin Hood" and delivered this timely money-quote: "You know, take from the rich -- these banks are greedy -- and give to better -- his daughters' lives."
But if you examine local coverage, you will learn that Giammanco is allegedly the "Boonie Hat Bandit." And rather than being described heroically, Giammanco's neighbors described him as an "odd guy" who "never had a day job" and "was constantly bragging about the next big thing he was going to purchase."
And Giammanco was hardly a desperate one-time offender, having allegedly robbed 12 banks of $100,000. While ABC does include this last point in its article, it also claims these robberies occurred "in September," which would tend to indicate a more desperate criminal (possibly) if all the crimes were committed in a month. But the local story linked above indicates that the 12 robberies occurred over the course of a year - and predated the worst of our recent economic difficulties.
ABC's final bank robber is the so-called "Ohio granny robber" Barbara Joly, who was recently sentenced to six years imprisonment for robbing three banks. Again, ABC finds sympathy for Joly in that "[h]er husband said she was trying to support her son, who had fallen deep into debt."
"She is a wonderful and loving grandmother who simply could not say no to her son's request for more and more financial help," he said.
ABC's main point is that the criminals cited (all three of them) are atypical bank robbers, presumably affected by the tough economic times. But elderly bank robbers, while possibly interesting, are hardly unusual. The ABC story in question links to a story about the "Grandpa bandit" who committed a series of robberies in late 2007. And a basic search for "grandmother robs bank" turns up a surprising number of hits - including these two granny robberies - which also predated the economic downturn.
The overall sentiment of the article is to excuse - or at least explain away - criminal behavior because of the current economic downturn. The ABC readers, though, are not entirely buying this argument. As one commenter put it: "The true test of a man's character is not when everything is fine, but when everything is falling apart around him."
And ABC has not even established that these criminals' lives were "falling apart" at all. I have a news flash for ABC ... almost every criminal defendant has some excuse, sometimes real - but often manufactured for the purpose of mitigating against a long prison sentence. The courts, after examining all the circumstances, will decide whether these criminals deserve sympathy and mercy. For some reason, I think the "Boonie Hat Bandit" will have a tougher time with the judge than he did with ABC.