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Judge denies motion to suppress evidence in bank robbery case

Charles Benjamin McNeal, of Chambersburg, Pa., is accused of robbing a Hagerstown bank

June 19, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

A judge on Tuesday denied a motion to suppress an eyewitness identification and DNA evidence against an accused bank robber following a hearing in Washington County Circuit Court.

Charles Benjamin McNeal, 28, of Chambersburg, Pa., was in court for a suppression hearing in April, but asked for a judge from outside the county to hear his case.

Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher McCormack said at that hearing that McNeal had been apprehended on the property of Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. in the Fountain Head area of Hagerstown.

McNeal was in court again Tuesday with visiting Circuit Judge James Sherbin hearing the case.

McNeal is charged with the Sept. 14, 2012, robbery of the M&T Bank branch at 13409 Pennsylvania Ave. A teller at the bank was called to testify Tuesday about her identification of McNeal.

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The teller testified she saw a man wearing a red baseball cap, sunglasses and a purple dress shirt enter the bank, walk up to another teller and hand her a note. She walked over to the other teller as the robbery was taking place and had about three minutes to observe the robber from a distance of a few feet, she testified.

When McNeal was apprehended, police brought him back to the bank branch, and she identified him as he was handcuffed standing beside a police cruiser, the teller testified.

McNeal was not wearing the hat, shirt or sunglasses when he was brought back to the bank, she testified.

“I’ve been through this before ... so I kind of know what to look for,” the teller testified.

“One hundred percent sure,” she testified when defense attorney Bernard W. Semler II asked her how confident she was of the identification.

Police later obtained a search warrant to get a sample of McNeal’s DNA, Washington County Sheriff’s Detective Jared Barnhart testified.

He did not testify as to what McNeal’s DNA would be compared with, but said that the hat, sunglasses and shirt were found in the vicinity of the robbery.

Semler argued that the teller’s identification at the scene did not match  the written description she gave police, which he called “utterly vague.”

The teller’s identification was not reliable and could not be used as probable cause to get the DNA search warrant, he said.

“’Show-ups’ are inherently suggestive ... but not unconstitutionally so,” Deputy State’s Attorney Joseph Michael told Sherbin, referring to the practice of police bringing a suspect to a crime scene to be identified by a witness.

The teller saw the suspect at a close distance under good lighting and made the identification of McNeal a short time after the robbery, Michael said.

“The reliability of a show-up is a question for a jury,” Sherbin said.

As for the teller and her identification, the judge said: “She passes all the tests.”

McNeal is scheduled for trial in July.

Another Chambersburg man, 32-year-old Rolando Arnez Lacy, is also awaiting trial in the robbery, according to court records.

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