United States Supreme Court Affirms Bank Robber’s Conviction
CHARLOTTE, NC—Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced that the United States Supreme Court affirmed yesterday the conviction of Larry Whitfield, a Charlotte man involved in the 2008 attempted robbery of a credit union in Gastonia, N.C. On November 23, 2009, following a six-day trial, a federal jury convicted Whitfield of attempted robbery of the credit union, conspiracy to possess, carry and use firearms during the attempted credit union robbery, possessing, carrying and using firearms during the attempted credit union robbery and forcing a victim to accompany him while avoiding and attempting to avoid arrest for these offenses, resulting in the death of the victim.
According to court records, Whitfield forced a victim, who died of a heart attack, to accompany him to another room inside her home while he was fleeing from police after the failed bank robbery. In a unanimous opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Whitfield’s actions violated 18 U.S.C. Section 2113(e) (“forced accompaniment statute”), which provides for a sentence ranging from ten years up to life in prison for anyone who “forces any person to accompany him” in the course of committing or fleeing a bank robbery.
According to court records and evidence presented at Whitfield’s trial:
On September 26, 2008, Whitfield and his co-defendant, Quanterrious McCoy, armed with a loaded .357 revolver and an assault rifle, attempted to rob the Fort Financial Credit Union in Gastonia. Court records show that the two robbers fled the scene, switched get-away cars, and were heading toward Charlotte when spotted by law enforcement officers. Officers were in pursuit when the defendants’ vehicle hit another car and became disabled on the shoulder of an I-85 exit ramp.
After crashing, the robbers grabbed their firearms and fled toward a residential neighborhood in the Belmont area, where they got rid of their guns and split up. Whitfield entered the home of a victim and threatened her with a knife as she was coming into the house. The victim fled, and so did Whitfield. Whitfield then entered the house of a second victim, a 79-year-old woman who was home alone. Whitfield forced the victim to move to another room inside her home while Whitfield called a friend for help escaping police. The victim suffered and died from a heart attack during the forced accompaniment.
On November 20, 2012, Judge Conrad re-sentenced Whitfield, after correcting an error in the original sentence, to 264 months in prison for the forced accompaniment conviction, to run concurrently with 240 months in prison for the attempted robbery and conspiracy to carry firearms conviction, and to run consecutively with 60 months of consecutive imprisonment for the carrying firearms conviction, for a total sentence of 27 years in prison.
The United States Supreme Court accepted the case for certiorari review last year to decide whether the forced accompaniment offense required proof of more than minimum movement on the part of the victim. According to the Supreme Court’s website, “the Court receives approximately 10,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari each year. . . . [and] grants and hears oral argument in about 75-80 cases.”
In the Supreme Court’s 9-0 opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court noted that the forced accompaniment language of the statue has remained unchanged since Congress passed the statute after a series of bank robberies committed by John Dillenger in the 1930s. The Court rejected Whitfield’s argument that the statute should be read to require a forced movement over more substantial distances than in Whitfield’s case, holding that “a bank robber ‘forces [a] person to accompany him, (for purposes of § 2113(e)), when he forces that person to go somewhere with him, even if the movement occurs entirely within a single building or over a short distance. Defined in this manner, Whitfield forced [the victim] to ‘accompany him.’”
Whitfield’s conspirator, Quanterrious McCoy, pleaded guilty in May 2009 to attempted bank robbery and use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. He was sentenced in February 2010 to 84 months in prison.
The FBI investigated the case. The federal prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. O’Malley and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam C. Morris handled the federal prosecution. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amy Ray and William Miller handled the appellate portion of the case.