COLUMBIA, SC — One of the Columbia areas most vicious crime sprees in recent years involving an armed bank robbery, high speed chase and police shootout that climaxed with the death of one of the robbers came to a quiet end Monday morning in a Richland County courtroom.
Bank robber Rashad Hall, 23, pleaded guilty to more than 30 counts of armed robbery, kidnapping, attempted murder and other assorted charges.
Circuit Judge DeAndrea Benjamin promptly sentenced Hall to 35 years in prison.
You have a significant amount of time, but God willing, you will see the light of day again, said Benjamin, who told Hall he needed to apologize to everyone, including his family and use his time in prison productively.
Hall, standing in chains before the judge, said, I just want to apologize to all the victims, the police officers, my family and the court thats it.
The hour-long hearing offered a glimpse into Columbia gang life and its victims many of whom remain so afraid of Rashad, his gang accomplices and his friends that they didnt come to court.
Assistant 5th Circuit Solicitor Dolly Justice Garfield played surveillance videos of the November robbery by four masked gun-toting men of the Wells Fargo Bank at 7305 Two Notch Road.
The video featured four men in masks and hoodies storming into the bank. One man, armed with an assault rifle, lept over a tellers counter. Employees and customers, including a pregnant woman, hit the floor. One robber grabbed a female employee by the hair. Robbers fired their guns.
The robbers made off with some $82,000 and were immediately pursued by Richland County sheriffs deputies, the first of whom Investigator Cris Truluck who happened be driving by wasnt wearing a bulletproof vest. Truluck chased the robbers but broke off briefly when they began shooting at him.
Today, many of the employees at the Wells Fargo Bank during the robbery remain traumatized to this day, said Victoria Loftis, victims aide in the solicitors office..
They wanted to be here, but they did not want anyone to see their faces for fear of what might happen after that, Loftis told Benjamin. Every member of that branch of Wells Fargo is now attending group counseling.
Also still feeling the effects of the Nov. 9 high speed chase was Richland County Sheriffs Investigator Truluck, who told the judge how while pursuing Halls Explorer and rounding a curve, I saw a long-barreled assault rifle coming out the passengers side pointed at me. At that point, I hit the deck, ducked down, slammed on the brakes and immediately heard four-five shots.
Shortly afterward, Richland County sheriffs deputies joined by Columbia police chased the Explorer. It finally stopped and four men jumped out and fled. Three were captured and one suspect was shot to death.
I did end up a victim, Truluck told the judge. He said that even though hes a law officer, he was shot at, and when something happens to a law officer, Its their families who have to pay for it ... (Hall) has no regard for any law officer there, or the system, he said.
Although Halls defense lawyers, John Mobley and Aimee Zmroczek, described him as easily influenced and under the sway of a local gang leader, prosecutor Garfield made it clear from the facts she presented that she considered Hall a key player in the events.
For one thing, Garfield told Benjamin, on the morning of Nov. 9, when the Wells Fargo was robbed, Hall was out of jail on bond awaiting trial for three 2011 armed robberies when he cut his off his electronic monitoring bracelet and left home. Then, Hall borrowed a Ford Explorer SUV from his grandmother and picked up three accomplices. By 10 a.m., the four were robbing the bank.
Zmroczek told Benjamin that Hall whom she described as an intelligent and respectful young man felt remorse and even cried recently realizing what harm he has done his family, which she described as hard-working and churchgoing.
However, Hall was easily influenced and fell under the spell of gang guys who were walking around flashing thousands of dollars, she said. She did not identify the gang or alleged gang participants.
Zmroczek asked Benjamin for a moderate sentence, saying, If he does get a chance to walk free, he can contribute to society.
Hall could have received 941 years for the 34 counts of kidnapping, armed robbery and attempted murder against him.
A plea by Rashads weeping mom availed little. I am truly sorry for the actions of my son, said Jerrell Hall. As a mother of four children, I tried my very best to lead all of them to the path of the Lord.
Halls alleged accomplices, Ozzie Carreker, 26, and Naim Stroman, 22, have not been tried. They are being held in the Alvin Glenn Detention Center without bond on various kidnapping, attempted murder and armed robbery charges.
Authorities recovered $72,000 of the money stolen from the bank but $10,000 is still missing.
Hall also has admitted being in a spree of armed robberies in July 2011, involving a Columbia-area auto parts store, a Food Lion grocery store and a Subway eatery.
Sheriff Leon Lott said he felt no pity for Hall. Hes an armed robber he could have cared less about people. And he could have gone out and gotten a job. He doesnt deserve a second chance.