Employees from several local banks told a federal judge at a sentencing hearing Thursday how 37-year-old Kelvin Barton’s robbery spree damaged them psychologically.
Shanelle Gadsden said that whenever a new customer comes in wearing glasses or a hat, she wonders, “What did you come here for?”
A bank manager said one of his employees resigned following Barton’s robbery, moved out of state and could not enter any bank building for half a year. Another teller suffered through a month of nightmares, the manager said.
An employee at another bank, a single mother, submitted a letter to the judge saying that her children worry she might get hurt or killed at work and that they won’t have anyone to care for them.
“I never feel safe at my job, and I’m always suspicious and judgmental of people I don’t know,” the woman wrote. “I am in constant fear of someone randomly attacking me.”
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel sentenced Barton, a North Charleston man, to 10 years and one month in prison for committing four bank robberies and attempting a fifth between July 2010 and June 2011. Gergel also ordered Barton to pay more than $15,000 in restitution.
“It’s sort of like an act of terrorism,” Gergel said. “It’s just horrible, and I think you can do better.”
Barton admitted to robbing a National Bank of South Carolina branch office in Summerville on July 3, 2010; a State Credit Union branch office in North Charleston on Sept. 2, 2010; a National Bank of South Carolina branch office in West Ashley on April 5, 2011; a SunTrust bank in North Charleston on May 27; and a First Federal Savings and Loan branch office in West Ashley on June 7.
He wore a wig or hood to cover his dreadlocks and netted $21,000 in four of the robberies. He came up short in a fifth case, when all bank employees hit the floor during the robbery, and no one could empty the till for him.
Prosecutors dropped weapons charges against Barton after determining that he used an air pistol, not an actual firearm. His public defender found a receipt from a sporting goods store showing that someone bought the pellet gun on his account two days before the first robbery.
Authorities finally arrested Barton after he wrecked his car in a high-speed chase. Charleston County sheriff’s deputies recovered most of the $7,000 Barton took from the bank in his final holdup.
Barton had been on supervised release at the time of the robberies for a 2000 conviction for robbing a First National Bank of South Carolina branch in Summerville. He was released from prison in 2009.
He wore a gray jail jumpsuit and his dreadlocks tucked into a knot on his head Thursday, as he apologized for his choice to quickly repeat his crime.
“I fully take responsibility for my actions and know they were wrong,” Barton said. “There’s no excuse I could give that would fully explain my actions.”
Barton said he robbed banks near wooded areas and that he sat and drank for a few hours before gathering the courage to hold up the employees inside.
“Not being under the influence, I don’t know that I could actually do it,” he said.
His attorney, Cameron Blazer, told the judge that Barton, polite and soft-spoken despite his imposing stature, failed to grow from his first stint in prison. Blazer said Barton became involved with a woman working at his halfway house soon after his release, and the woman and her three children moved in with Barton, who worked at Cactus Car Wash.
“He was not emotionally or economically ready for the responsibility,” Blazer said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alston Badger argued for a stiffer sentence than the guidelines suggested.
“A man who’s on supervised release for an armed bank robbery — who commits five more bank robberies — why wouldn’t that man deserve the maximum sentence this court could impose?” Badger asked.
Judge Gergel denied the motion but noted a particular concern that Barton used a pellet gun instead of a real gun in this series of robberies, thereby avoiding stiffer charges.
“The mental process getting there is very troubling about his state of mind,” Gergel said. “To me that’s like the drug dealer who tells me, proudly, that he doesn’t use drugs.”
Gergel called Barton “a charming, articulate guy” and encouraged him to use the next decade in prison to finish college.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/allysonjbird.