Parker guilty on all counts — (The Cherokee Sentinel)

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The  Cherokee Sentinel

By Dwight Otwell Editor

Feb 27, 2007

Federal jury nixes insanity plea in bank robberies and kidnappings

Leonard O. Parker Thursday was found guilty of all 10 counts in the bank robbery of two banks in January 2006, including the First Citizens Bank branch in the Peachtree section of Cherokee County.

Parker, who previously owned Mountain Max Auto Superstore on the Murphy Highway in Union County, was charged with bank robbery and kidnapping in connection with the January 11, 2006 robbery of the Peachtree bank and the January 6 robbery of the Mooresville Savings Bank in Cornelius, North Carolina. Parker resided in Morganton, GA at the time of the robberies.

A federal Grand Jury in Bryson City took only an hour and 15 minutes to find Parker guilty of all 10 counts against him. It will be two months or longer before Parker is sentenced, prosecutor Don Gast said.

Parker began the trial defending himself but then asked that his stand-by defense attorney, Joel Trilling, defend him. Trilling had been appointed to defend Parker but Parker had fired him. Trilling was a stand-by counsel for Parker, advising him before Parker asked him to take over as his defense attorney.

Parker testified for himself and was his only witness. Parker claimed insanity because he said he quit taking Paxil, an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug, during the time of the bank robberies.

There were five prosecution witnesses, including First Citizens Bank teller Jean Higdon and Parker’s wife at the time of the robberies. They have since divorced.

Parker was found guilty of five charges for each of the two bank robberies. He was found guilty of bank robbery, assaulting a teller in a bank robbery, taking a teller in a bank robbery (kidnapping), use of a firearm during a bank robbery and possession of a firearm while being a convicted felon. Both robberies were similar, in that Parker used a pistol and forced tellers to drive him away from the bank to his getaway vehicle.

With the eight-woman, four-man jury out of the courtroom, Parker was escorted by federal officials into the courtroom with his arms cuffed behind him and his legs chained together. The

handcuffs were taken off before the jury

entered the room but the leg irons remained. Parker wore jeans, a shortsleeve shirt not tucked in and athletic shoes.

“Taking or not taking Paxil should not be a get out of jail free card,” Gast said.

Federal Judge Lacy Thornburg said that for the jury to find Parker not guilty only by reason of insanity,

the defendant must prove that he had a severe mental disease or defect at the time of the crime and that he was not able to understand what he was doing or to understand what he was doing was wrong.

Trilling, in his closing argument, said Parker didn’t have the mindset to commit the crime. He wasn’t in the habit of robbing banks, he said.

“He robbed two banks (within a few days time) and he testified that he had never even been in a fistfight,” Trilling said.

Trilling reminded the jury that Parker testified that he went on buying sprees including getting up at 3 a.m. to go to Wal Mart.

“Leonard had a business and it was successful, even though he was going through bankruptcy,” said Trilling. “Is it sensible to go to rob a bank without a mask when your face in on a (nearby) billboard?”

Trilling said photos of Parker in the bank show him smiling and cutting up with the tellers. He said this isn’t the actions of a sane person.

Trilling said Leonard’s former wife testified that Leonard called her up and asked her to go gambling with him and he didn’t act different than normal, even though he had just robbed two banks.

Parker was arrested at the hotel at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in Cherokee. His wife was with him. Parker’s wife didn’t know about the bank robberies, officials said.

“You are telling me that a guy threw away his life over $10,000 in debts that were a month late,” Trilling said to the jury. “He (Parker) didn’t say he didn’t do it. He said he doesn’t know why he did it. He can’t control himself. He can’t control those impulses.”

Gist, in his closing argument, said Parker didn’t act like he didn’t know what he was doing. He hid his getaway car, he said. (Parker forced Higdon to drive him to the parking lot of Murphy Medical Center, where his getaway car was reportedly parked).

Gist said that in the Mooresville Savings Bank robbery, Parker at first passed himself off as a customer. In the Cherokee County bank robbery, he said he was a doctor. Parker got bank personal to show him the bank vault before he pulled a gun. This was goal oriented decision making, Gist said. In both cases Parker waited for customers to leave the banks before revealing himself as a bank robber, Gist said.

“He was laughing and smiling because he was ‘Dr. Parker’ and he wanted the tellers to show him the safety deposit boxes,” Gist said. “He demanded the video tapes (of the robberies) both times and he got it once. He tried very hard not to get caught. (After the bank robbery) he went and paid his unpaid bills and then went gambling.”

Parker testified that he quit taking Paxil at the end of December, 2005, shortly before the bank robberies.

Gist said Parker’s former wife, Tracey Parker, testified that her routine was to give Parker his medicine every day.

Gist held up the Tarus PT 138 .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol which he said Parker used in the robberies. He said Parker later told investigators that he used a pellet gun in the robbery and that he threw it out of the car after the robberies.

“There was very little of Parker’s testimony that was believable,” Gist said. “He robs a bank and the next day pays his bills. His finances were going down the tube and he was over lavish with gifts to his wife. He robbed these banks and kidnapped the tellers. He did both bank robberies in the same way. He pointed the gun at six people. Jean Higdon came in (to court) and started crying and this is more than a year later (after the robbery). He traumatized these people.”

Parker fled the First Citizens Bank in Peachtree with a plastic bag full of cash totaling about $20,000.

Parker was stopped by a highway patrolman for speeding a short distance from Murphy Medical Center. The trooper issued a ticket to Parker. The trooper later saw a security camera image of the robber and realized it looked like the man he had stopped.

Previously, Stan Gunter, district attorney for a judicial circuit in north Georgia that includes Union County, said that local officials had begun an investigation into wrongdoing involving Parker’s business, Mountain Max. However, the investigation was turned over to federal law enforcement authorities.

Parker closed the doors of Mountain Max in 2005 and reportedly filed for Chapter 11 status. Investigators had reportedly seized computers and files from Mountain Max going back three months.

Parker faces a total maximum of 144 years in prison or a fine of $1.5 million or both.