By Dan Horn
Enquirer staff writer
David Brankle says he was a reluctant bank robber.
He told a federal judge Wednesday that he turned to crime two years ago because he was broke, out of work and desperate from trying to support an ex-wife and their 5-year-old son.
Brankle, of Vincennes, Ind., said he sometimes became physically ill after a robbery and couldn't go through with the crime if the bank teller was elderly or, on one occasion, when he spotted Girl Scouts nearby.
"I would never hurt anybody," Brankle said. "I did want to quit, but it was like being painted in a corner."
But with a rap sheet containing 43 robberies, including several in Greater Cincinnati, Brankle's commitment to giving up his crime spree seemed shaky to U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith.
She sentenced him to 21 years in federal prison.
Prosecutors describe Brankle as one of the region's most prolific bank robbers. Known as the "Bank Mart Bandit" because of his preference for targeting small banks inside larger stores, the 47-year-old Brankle has admitted to hold-ups in six states.
Those states were Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri and Florida.
Authorities say all the robberies followed a pattern: Brankle walked in, handed the teller a note and vanished quickly with thousands of dollars in cash.
"This is a hold-up," read the note, usually a computer printout. "I have a gun and will use it. All large bills. No dye packs. No alarms. Don't be stupid."
Prosecutors say he got away with more than $175,000during 20 months. And because he had no criminal record and left no fingerprints, investigators did not suspect him until he was pulled over for reckless driving near his home Dec. 31.
In the car, police found athletic caps like those worn by the robber and copies of notes similar to those used in the robberies.
"He's a very intelligent man," said his lawyer, Steve Madden. "They never would have caught him if he hadn't been driving recklessly."
In court Wednesday, Brankle portrayed himself as an amateur criminal who acted out of desperation. He complained that his 21-year sentence was too severe.
"I wish there were a different way to pay my dues," Brankle told the judge. "I'm worth a lot more outside than I am inside."
He said he's offered to show authorities how they could make banks safer from robbers like him in exchange for a more lenient punishment. "I could cut down a third of bank robberies," he said, "but they're not interested."
Brankle said his sentence will keep him from his son until the child is well into adulthood. And that, he said, is his greatest regret.
Beckwith, though, noted that Brankle left the child in a car on the day he was arrested when he dashed out to flee from police.
"It was terrible," Brankle said of his son's experience. "He didn't deserve that."
"Well, who put him in that position?" the judge asked.
"I did," he said. "I put myself in this position. I don't have any backbone."
Terry Lehmann, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the 43 robberies took a human and financial toll.
Investigators believe Brankle spent the money, Lehmann said, and some tellers quit their jobs because they were so traumatized by the robberies. Lehmann also said Brankle once stole a car at gunpoint in Louisville.
Brankle said he never carried a gun into a bankor physically harmed anyone.
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