Perryville bank robber sentenced to 17 years

September 15, 2003|PHIL PENDLETON

LEXINGTON - An armed holdup Nov. 16 at Farmers National Bank in Perryville included a terrifying series of events for bank tellers and a police chase that reached speeds of at least 90 miles an hour, according to testimony presented during a sentencing hearing Friday in U.S. District Court.

James Ronnie Hazelwood, 35, of Lebanon, was sentenced to 17 years in prison based on two charges related to the holdup and subsequent police chase.

Hazelwood's attorney, Andrew Stephens, filed a number of objections to the sentencing guidelines, but U.S. District Judge Karl S. Forester overruled all of them. Among the arguments, Stephens questioned the reported threat Hazelwood made to the four tellers and how much of a danger he was to police and motorists during the police chase after the robbery. "Under the sentencing guidelines, the same conduct was double-counted," said Stephens after the hearing.

More detailed accounts of what took place during the robbery and pursuit were revealed during the hour-long hearing Friday. Judge Forester said that Hazelwood did make a specific threat to the tellers. "A pistol was held to one teller's back, and he (Hazelwood) said, 'I'm going to kill you. If you look at me I will kill you,' " Forester said Hazelwood told a teller. Police reports released after the robbery said that the tellers were locked inside the bank vault after the robbery, which occurred shortly after the employees arrived for work.


Stephens also questioned the punishment Hazelwood was receiving based on the pursuit he led police on after the robbery. "We've all had a chance to look at the video (taken from the camera in the cruiser chasing Hazelwood's vehicle after the robbery)," said Stephens.

"I'm not aware of any video," said Forester.

The video was shown to the court, which shows what police say is Hazelwood's vehicle being followed by a police cruiser at a high rate of speed. At one point, the police officer is heard saying "90 miles per hour." Hazelwood's vehicle, a 1986 sedan, is seen at least five to six lengths ahead of the cruiser during most of the pursuit. At one point, the sedan's left turn blinker was on, but the car turned right. After about six minutes, the car stopped and the driver ran out, leaving the door open while the car rolled backward into the police cruiser.

Stephens argued that Hazelwood's car was an "11-year-old vehicle" and was not capable of reaching such high speeds as claimed by police. "I don't think speeds of 90 mph (were met). That was a 1986 car," said Stephens.

Forester said it was irrelevant that the car was 11 years old, because sports cars that old can reach excessive speeds. Stephens also argued that Hazelwood's threat to others during the pursuit was not as high as police made it out to be. "Clearly no one else was hurt," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Arehart said Hazelwood was a risk to police and motorists, citing the pursuit speed and the fact that Hazelwood tried to deceive officers when he put his left turn-signal on only to turn right. "He certainly put officers in jeopardy," he said.

Forester agreed. "The defendant put a substantial risk of injury to the officers. His conduct was at the least reckless," he said.

At the time of the robbery, Hazelwood had recently been paroled from Northpoint Training Center where he was serving a 14-year sentence for crimes dating back to 1996, including a robbery in Washington County, according to state prison records. He had also been in prison from crimes from Marion County.

Stephens argued Friday that Hazelwood was charged in two separate counties with charges that were related. "Those acts should only be counted one time," he told Forester.

"I don't see these cases are related," said Forester. He later overruled Stephens' objection to the sentencing guideline.

According to the pre-sentencing guidelines, Hazelwood was given a recommended sentence of 10-to-12 and-one-half years on the count of "bank robbery by force or violence." The recommendation on the charge of "violent crime/drugs/machine gun" was seven years.

Stephens asked Forester to give Hazelwood the low end of the pre-sentencing guidelines. "Look at his record. He's been in jail most of his life," Stephens said.

Forester asked Hazelwood if he had anything to say.

"I would like to apologize to the bank tellers. I don't expect the court to understand how I had to steal food, steal tennis shoes (when younger)," he said, speaking of a very troubling youth and young adult life. "I've spoken with a psychologist. I've had no role model to show (me) how to do things."

"Up to this point, part of your life has been wasted," said Forester. "I hope during your incarceration you will take advantage of what's offered to you. I'm not going to preach at you. A third of your life has been spent in jail. I believe you're sorry, but you have to understand how traumatic it is having a gun pointed at you and being told you're going to be killed," he told Hazelwood.

Forester sentenced Hazelwood to 10 years on count one and seven years on count two, with both to run consecutively for a total of 17 years in the Bureau of Prisons. Hazelwood was ordered to take part in mental and emotional counseling and drug treatment. He will be on five years supervised release on each count to run concurrently after his jail time.

The four bank tellers involved in the holdup attended Friday's hearing and were prepared to testify against Hazelwood if called upon, according to Arehart. After the hearing, they didn't want to give their reaction to the sentence. "We really don't have any comment," one said.

Boyle County Deputy Sheriff Marty Elliot was also in the courtroom. "I feel like justice was served," he said after the hearing. "The threats made to the tellers, and the endangerment to our officers ... I think the sentence is adequate."

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