A Marrero man was convicted Thursday night (Sept. 22) of robbing the same bank branch twice, slightly one year apart. Brandon Gray initially got away with the first robbery, but he was arrested after the second one, when he led deputies on a vehicle pursuit that culminated with his being shot in his right leg by an officer.
Gray, 40, who is transported between the parish jail and court in a wheel chair because of the bullet wound, was convicted as charged of five counts of armed robbery, aggravated flight and two counts of aggravated assault. The five robbery counts involve the five bank employees who were victimized during the two bank heists.
He was convicted of robbing the Iberia Bank branch on Barataria Boulevard in Marrero on Sept. 30, 2013, and returning again on Oct. 9, 2014. He stole almost $20,000 between the robberies, but only about $15,700 was recovered following his arrest for the second crime.
The jury heard testimony from tellers and managers, who noted similarities in the robberies. Each time, Gray covered his face, leaving victims unable to identify him. However, the robber was physically similar, used white plastic grocery bags to carry the cash, carried a black pistol and used similar vulgar words in directing and threatening to kill his victims, according to testimony.
“The first thing is the voice, the sound of the voice,” the assistant branch manager testified Wednesday in drawing similarities. “The language that was used was the same both times. … I feel confident that it was the same person.”
The bank branch manager, who also witnessed both robberies and had a pistol pointed at him during the crimes, concurred, saying it was “the same type of language he used the year before.”
During the second robbery, one of the bank employees happened to be speaking with her husband on the phone when the robber burst in. Her husband, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Lt. Oliver Silvey, was driving to his off-duty security detail at the time.
“All of sudden she said, ‘Oh my god, we’re getting robbed, we’re getting robbed,’” Silvey testified. She put the phone down but resumed the conversation minutes later, hysterically saying they were robbed.
Silvey said he was broadcasting the robbery on the police radio “within seconds,” relaying the information his wife was providing to his fellow deputies. Those details included the suspect’s description and that he drove a blue Chevrolet Suburban, Silvey testified.
Deputy Ted Raymond was patrolling when he heard Silvey’s broadcast. He activated his emergency lights and rushed toward the bank when he spotted a blue Suburban stopped at the red light at Ames and Lapalco boulevards, he testified.
“The driver started hopping around, jumping around in the front seat,” Raymond testified in describing Gray’s nervous demeanor. With the police vehicle behind him, Gray ran the red light, Raymond testified. Gray led Raymond and Deputy Alvin Farris on a vehicle pursuit, during which the suspect ran stop signs and traffic lights, the officers testified. Gray drove more than twice the speed limit on the residential streets of the Lincolnshire subdivision, the deputies testified.
In the 2000 block of Constantine Street, Gray crashed the Suburban into the front of a house. The deputies testified they saw him jump out of the driver’s door carrying a pistol in his right hand and a white grocery bag in his left hand.
As Gray ran behind the Suburban, the plastic bag snagged the rear bumper, ripping it open and scattering the stolen cash on the front lawn, the deputies testified. Gray ran up an alley and hopped a chain link fence into the back yard, ignoring the deputies’ commands to stop.
“He turned around in a cowboy stance and he pointed the gun at me,” Raymond testified. “That’s when I fired three times. I thought it was three times. I was (later) told it was seven to six or seven.”
Farris stood behind Raymond with his service pistol drawn and pointed at Gray. But Farris testified he did not open fire because Raymond was too close to his line of fire.
Despite being shot once in his right leg, Gray ran across the back yard and hopped another fence. Deputies that converged on the area arrested him. The deputies also found the pistol Gray used. It was a toy airgun pellet pistol, according to testimony.
During his interrogation, Gray confessed to Robbery Detective Marc Macaluso that he robbed the bank in 2014, saying he had to support five children but trying to minimize his actions. His attorney argued that it did not qualify legally as an armed robbery by definition, because a toy pellet pistol was used, not an actual firearm.
Gray denied robbing the bank in 2013. In that crime, the robber drove a gold Chevrolet Suburban as the getaway vehicle. That Suburban was recovered on Constantine Street following the 2014 armed robbery, near where Gray drove into the house, and in it were pellets and construction gear similar to the green construction vest the robber wore in the 2013 bank robbery, Macaluso testified.
Gray faces 10 years to 99 years in prison for each armed robbery count. Judge Danyelle Taylor of the 24th Judicial District Court scheduled Gray’s sentencing hearing for Oct. 6.
Gray, who did not testify this week, was convicted of a 1997 armed robbery in Westwego, for which he received a 15-year prison sentence. The 64-year-old victim in that crime was changing a fuse in his minivan when Gray approached armed with a revolver and threatened to kill him. The victim resisted and struggled with Gray, who was able to get away in the minivan.
He led deputies on a pursuit, in which he drove the wrong way on Lapalco Boulevard and onto the Harvey Canal bridge. He collided with several vehicles, sending one motorist to the hospital, and he jumped off the bridge into the Harvey Canal in a failed attempt to escape, police said.
Prosecutors made a pretrial attempt to use the 1997 conviction as evidence of prior “bad acts” in this week’s trial. However, Judge Taylor denied prosecutors’ request, meaning the jury heard nothing about the 1997 conviction this week.
Assistant District Attorneys Blair Constant and Thomas Sanderson prosecuted the 2013 and 2014 robberies.