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Judge to determine if man is criminally responsible for bank robberies

David Courtney Zeller, a diagnosed schizophrenic, already pleaded guilty to robbing Sovereign Bank twice

February 15, 2011|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

There is no question that David Courtney Zeller robbed the same bank twice in two weeks, but it will be up to Washington County Circuit Judge Donald E. Beachley to determine if the Hagerstown man is criminally responsible for his actions.

Zeller, 57, formerly of the Dagmar Hotel, pleaded guilty in November to two counts of robbing the Sovereign Bank at 100 W. Washington St., on March 9 and March 23, 2010. At the time, Assistant State's Attorney Brett Wilson said the state was seeking a prison sentence of as much as 20 years.

On Tuesday, Zeller was back in court for a hearing to determine if he is criminally responsible. If it is determined he is not, Zeller will be turned over to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene instead of the Department of Corrections, Assistant Public Defender Carl F. Creeden said.

Zeller, who was paroled from state prison a month before the first robbery, testified he needed rent money, could not contact the person managing his inheritance and had medications that were below his accustomed dosage.

"I got the idea in my head that banks had money," Zeller testified. "The voices in my head ... I planned to get money from the bank."

After the first robbery, he testified he became "so paranoid" that he believed two men living in the Dagmar were police and had him under surveillance.

"I decided I needed more money to get out of town," so he robbed the bank again, Zeller testified.

Zeller is a diagnosed schizophrenic who takes medications for that disorder, depression and a panic disorder, testified Renee Burgan, a forensic social worker with the Office of the Public Defender.

Wilson presented a letter from Dr. J. Emmet Burke of the Office of Forensic Services for Maryland's Mental Hygiene Administration that acknowledged Zeller's history of mental disorders. However, it stated there was no evidence he was "substantially impaired in his ability to appreciate the criminality of his behavior."

Teller Pamela Sasser was working the day of both robberies and described Zeller as "very calm" on March 9. She testified that he leaned down, told her it was a robbery and said what kind of bills he wanted.

In the March 23 holdup, Zeller threatened her several times, asked about dye packs hidden in cash bundles and carried a backpack that he said he could detonate with a cell phone, she testified.

"There seems to be some evidence that Mr. Zeller has a legitimate mental illness," Creeden told Beachley.

"He needed money. Banks have money. I can take money from banks," Wilson said, summing up Zeller's behavior.

Beachley said he would decide the matter in two or three weeks.

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