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Five Years for Bank Robberies

With four children under 8 years old, William Paul Craig was a desperate man. He'd lost his job with a paving company, his family was about to be evicted and they were running out of groceries and diapers.

DEPRESSED AND needing money fast, he decided to rob banks. Before getting caught, he robbed banks in Centreville, Fair Oaks and Reston. And Friday — as his wife sobbed while cradling their infant son in her arms — he was sentenced to five years in prison.

"This defendant robbed three banks," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Adriana Eberle. "It wasn't an isolated event. And each time he did it, he put the lives of the people at the bank in danger."

On May 18 in Fairfax County Circuit Court, Craig, 35, of Roseland, Md., pleaded guilty to two of the crimes. In a plea agreement, charges in the third heist were dropped. At that time, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Julie Mitchell explained the case against him.

She stated that, on Dec. 26, 2003, around 1:30 p.m., he went to the BB&T Bank in the Fairfax Towne Center in Fair Oaks. "He watched outside the bank for several hours before entering," she said. "When he went inside, he presented a note to the teller that said, 'I have a gun. Give me the money. Be quiet.'"

One teller gave him "several thousand dollars," said Mitchell. A week later, he hit a second bank. On Jan. 2, around 1 p.m., Craig went to the BB&T in the North Point Village Center in Reston. "He scoped out the bank before entering," said Mitchell. "Then he handed the teller a note saying something [like], "Quiet. Hold up. Put money in paper.'"

"He placed a newspaper on the counter," continued Mitchell. "The teller put the money on the newspaper, and [Craig] left with about $4,200. On Jan. 9, he did the exact same thing at the Bank of America in Centreville and got $16,000 cash."

CRAIG WALKED into that bank, at 14122 Lee Highway in the Newgate Shopping Center, around 1 p.m., and showed the teller a note demanding money. He also implied he had a gun, so the teller cooperated.

"But this time, there was a lookout for a red, Chevy Astro van that was spotted at the scene of all three robberies," said Mitchell. A police officer from the Sully District Station saw the van on I-66 west and pulled it over. Police identified the driver as Craig and charged him with the robberies.

"Inside the van were black gloves and a newspaper containing a large stack of money," said Mitchell. She said Craig made a "detailed confession," his fingerprint was found on a note and his boot print matched one found in one of the banks. He even identified the camouflage jacket he'd worn during the robberies and identified himself in video stills from the banks' surveillance cameras.

His previous attorney, James Toohey, said Craig's actions were "extraordinarily outside of his character." He had no criminal record and, until last December, was considered an upstanding member of his community. But when financial troubles hit, said Toohey, he was diagnosed with clinical depression and underwent pastoral and psychological counseling.

Craig returned to court Friday for sentencing, and prosecutor Eberle told Judge Kathleen MacKay the impacts of his crime spree. "He put a sense of fear in the community — no one knew if their bank would be robbed next," she said. "One teller was so traumatized, she had to leave her job and seek counseling. She was innocent, and she [paid] a price. People were affected by his actions, and he needs to be punished."

Defense attorney Dale Race stressed that "it was a simulated firearm. Unfortunately, this defendant had read an article stating that bank robbery was a benign crime that didn't harm anybody. So he embarked on three robberies — in none of which did he have a gun."

"Mr. Craig knows he did wrong by committing these crimes, but he said he felt as if he were watching someone else [commit them]," continued Race. "His pastor says his community will pay his restitution and then Mr. Craig can pay them back. And his church and family will integrate him back into society and also monitor him."

HE THEN asked MacKay to consider making a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines which ranged from seven years, one month to 11 years, two months in prison. Said Race: "He has suffered greatly, long before the bank robberies, and will continue to suffer until he can reconcile the problems within his family and within himself."

He said $16,000 was recovered and Craig owes about $7,000 more. And Craig's pastor told the judge his church would help the family relocate to a new place for a fresh start. Regarding the restitution, he said, there'd be an opportunity for Craig to repay the church or for the debt to be forgiven.

Before sentencing, Craig stood and addressed the court. "I look back, a year ago, and it's like looking back into a nightmare," he said. "I can't make any excuses. I fully accept responsibility for my actions and [their] consequences. At the time, I felt I'd already failed at everything and there was no hope for me."

As his wife and other relatives wept, he said, "I was trying to find a way out of these circumstances. I was literally driving in circles, and it just all seemed to happen, like some horrible nightmare. But I'm probably alive today because I was apprehended. Because of the shape I was in, it stopped a cycle that would have destroyed us, altogether."

"I'd like a chance to set things right and repair the damage I've caused," continued Craig. "I'm not that hopeless person anymore."

Then it was MacKay's turn. "You're going to have to continue to be strong and make the best of it because you've got four children and, hopefully, they'll be waiting for you when you get out," she said. "Robbery is a very serious offense and you did it under threat. And I'm cognizant of the victim's suffering."

However, in consideration of a doctor's report on Craig's mental state at the time, his family situation then and his church's support now, she sentenced him below the guidelines. On each charge, she gave him 10 years in prison, suspending five, and running the sentences concurrently, plus three years probation.

"I wish the family the best of luck," said MacKay. "You're going to have to stick together and pull through it."