Judge denies convicted bank robber's motion for a new trial

Jon Campisi Mar. 13, 2012, 10:03am

A man who was convicted in the June 21, 2010 robbery of the Citizen’s Bank branch at 6201 N. 5th St. in Philadelphia will not be entitled to a new trial, a federal judge in Philadelphia has ruled.

In a memorandum opinion released March 7, U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg denied a motion for a new trial that had been filed by Barry Douglas, a/k/a Shakeel Styles.

Douglas contended that he was entitled to a new trial because prosecutors made improper comments during their closing arguments at his trial, and also because the government violated its duty to preserve evidence in the case before it went to trial.

During the trial, two FBI agents testified that the money allegedly found on Douglas following the armed robbery, which had been stained with red dye from a pack that exploded upon Douglas fleeing the bank, was sent back to the Federal Reserve to be taken out of circulation and destroyed, according to background information contained within the judge’s ruling.

The process was typical, the agents had testified, in cases where currency was rendered useless following bank heists.

Douglas had claimed that this act constituted getting rid of evidence before trial.

Douglas, who did not testify or call witnesses during trial, later claimed that he was arrested in a case of mistaken identity, arguing that only one eyewitness, the assistant bank manager, had positively identified him as the perpetrator of the crime.

Douglas also argued in post-trial motions that his former girlfriend, Tyesha Figueroa, who had previously obtained a Protection from Abuse Order against Douglas, was biased because of her past relationship with Douglas.

Douglas was arrested the day of the bank heist because Figueroa called police to state that Douglas had violated the PFA when he showed up at her place of work.

When the responding officer went to take Douglas into custody for violating the order, he discovered wads of money in Douglas’ pockets, currency that was soaked in red dye.

During his trial, attorneys for Douglas argued that there was no physical evidence linking their client to the robbery, including fingerprints or DNA evidence from the bank, and that there had been no testing performed on the money recovered from Douglas.

Goldberg ruled that Douglas’ claims that prosecutors made improper comments by personally attacking Douglas and his attorneys were without merit.

“In isolation, the comment that defense counsel was ‘making up’ evidence could be read to imply a conscious attempt to mislead the jury, which could be viewed as an attack on defense counsel’s professionalism,” Goldberg wrote. “However, when read in conjunction with the rest of the prosecutor’s remarks, it is clear that the prosecutor was arguing only that defense counsel’s description of the evidence was incorrect.”

Douglas had also argued that nine remarks made by prosecutors to the jury suggested that the government had outside knowledge of the record, something that would constitute improper ‘vouching’ for the reliability of a government witness.

Goldberg disagreed with the defendant’s assessment.

“Viewed in the context of the prosecutor’s summation, nearly all of these comments constitute proper argument permitting the jury to draw a particular reasonable inference from the evidence,” the ruling states. “… None of the comments in any way suggested to the jury that the prosecutor had knowledge outside of the record evidence.”

Next, Douglas argued that the government’s sending the stained money back to the Federal Reserve for destruction constituted a bad faith effort on the part of the government to not attempt to preserve evidence.

The government, however, had countered that Douglas never requested testing, or raised any issues relating to this evidence, prior to or during trial.

The judge sided with the prosecutors.

“A failure to preserve evidence, even if deliberate, does not violate due process if done pursuant to routine practice and without the intent to suppress exculpatory evidence,” the ruling states.

Goldberg wrote that red-stained money is normally of an “inculpatory, rather than exculpatory, nature.”

Goldberg did say it might behoove the government to preserve red-stained currency in cases such as these, because it would enable defendants to examine the evidence if introduced at trial.

“However, the interest of justice does not require a new trial in this instance,” the judge wrote. “Given that the evidence is lost and irretrievable, it is unclear exactly how a new trial would be any different from the first. The stained currency that was recovered from the Defendant will not be available for testing at any subsequent trial. Indeed, in his motion for a new trial, the Defendant fails to identify evidence that was admitted at his first trial which should be excluded in a subsequent one.”

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