Grimes bank robbery trial goes to jury

DOVER — A jury deliberated nearly five hours Tuesday but the fate of a 46-year-old man charged in a bank robbery over five years ago remained undetermined at the end of the day.

With no verdict returned, jurors will return to the Kent County Courthouse today to discuss the case of Russell M. Grimes, an alleged getaway driver from the First National Bank of Wyoming after an armed robbery on Aug. 26, 2011.

Prosecutors believe that Mr. Grimes conspired with William Sells to commit a robbery, and led police on an approximately 16-mile high speed chase as a suspect fired from a black Ford SUV.

Both defendants were convicted earlier cases, but granted retrials after issues surrounding jury selection in 2013.

Mr. Grimes is charged with first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, five counts of second-degree reckless endangering, and possession of a firearm/ammunition by person prohibited.

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Russell M. Grimes

From the witness stand and in closing statements, Mr. Grimes maintained that he was unaware of a planned bank robbery and was forced by Sells at gunpoint to drive away afterward.

After buying an Ford SUV from Sells for $1,500, Grimes said he thought they drove to the bank to make a deposit. He claimed Sells was smoking PCP, also known as “Angel Dust” he noted, the entire time and described his actions as “crazy.”

The chase begins

Sells left the bank and returned to the vehicle, pointing a gun and ordering Mr. Grimes to “Drive. Drive,” according to testimony.

Mr. Grimes claimed he responded with “You set me up, you set me up,” as he began to drive away. An exploding dye pack inside a bag with currency included tear gas that hampered his vision, he said.

Sells ignored pleas to stop shooting, the defendant said.

“I was scared for my life,” Mr. Grimes testified. “All I could think about was that I’m going to die.”

When the vehicle crashed into a ditch in Camden-Wyoming, Mr. Grimes said his attempt to flee was because, “A police officer was running down on the car, shooting the car up.

“I’m running from him also.”

Mr. Grimes was shot once in the ankle by a pursuing Delaware State Police trooper and Sells escaped, according to authorities. He was later apprehended after a standoff at the Shamrock Motel on U.S. 13 in Dover.

The prosecution described the pursuit as lasting over 20 minutes, winding through rural roads as wet weather progressively worsened.

Deputy Attorney General Susan Schmidhauser began cross examination by questioning Mr. Grimes about several past felony convictions, which the defendant initially said he didn’t remember and “I don’t even know if it is true, but if you say so.”

The prosecution referenced criminal impersonation convictions in 2010, 2011 and 2012, maintaining a vehicle in 2008 and receiving stolen property over $1,500 and possession of burglar tools in 2012.

Presented with paperwork, Mr. Grimes said, “Yes, that’s on my record.”

The chase ends

Asked about his interaction with police after being shot, Grimes admitted to giving officers a false name and failing to give information on the other fleeing suspect. He also never said he was forced to drive, according to Ms. Schmidhauser.

Mr. Grimes assumed police put their guns down once he was in handcuffs, he testified, and heard officers saying untrue things.

“I knew I was going to be in trouble,” he said.

His fear came from the belief that “Everyone knows if you’re shooting at police they will shoot and kill you, that’s fact.”

Citing his claims of being forced to drive the vehicle, Mr. Grimes requested to include in the 31 pages of jury instructions that he was under duress during the incident that brought charges.

In closing, Ms. Schmidhauser began by citing letters written by Mr. Grimes to the mother of his child, which she described as the “equivalent of a confession.”

The prosecution cited passages its said indicated Mr. Grimes asked the mother to deny the letters as untrue and make up a story if needed when she came to court.

Mr. Grimes closed by saying that writing letters isn’t a crime and “They can’t tell me what I wrote was fact or fiction. I wasn’t writing to them.”

The defendant contended he was trying to impress the mother “rather stupidly. It was fabricated.”

While the prosecution treated the letters like “the Gospel,” according to Mr. Grimes he “perpetrated a fraud to a loved one privately on my time.”

Possession in question

Mr. Grimes argued repeatedly that he never entered the bank or possessed a weapon, and was unaware of Sells’ intent to commit a robbery. Also, he claimed, no bank employees saw him inside, and no police officers testified to him possessing or shooting a firearm.

“I know he was high and the only reason he did it was because he was high,” Mr. Grimes testified about Sells.

“He wouldn’t do it otherwise.”

The prosecution cited Sells’ testimony to a conspiracy from the witness stand. On July 13, he pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He is appealing a second-degree conspiracy finding against him.

Ms. Schmidhauser referenced Mr. Grimes writing to say his share of the robbery was “25 stacks” or $25,000, which was approximately half the money reported stolen from the bank.

At one point in the letters, Mr. Grimes described his alleged accomplice as his “bro” who “ain’t done his homework,” according to the prosecutor.

The defendant lamented that a lot went wrong with in the robbery, according to the closing, but described himself as “salty” and “all right.”

A bank customer in the drive through called 911 after seeing the dye pack explode, and provided a description of the car as it began to flee, according to the DAG. Also in the vicinity, a Harrington Police officer recounted seeing a pink puff of smoke just before the chase began.

“Russell Grimes and William Sells were desperately trying to get away from police so they could split the proceeds,” Ms. Schmidhauser contended.

AG: Accomplice liability

In the letter, according to Ms. Schmidhauser, Mr. Grimes reported that he was shot by “a cracker.”

She wondered why Mr. Grimes hadn’t tried to escape when Mr. Sells exited the vehicle at one point during the chase to fire a gun.

Three police vehicles were struck by gunfire during the chase.

Also, according to the prosecution Mr. Grimes alluded to possibly hinting in a letter that he knew what was going on and that was all that was needed.

Prosecution asserted that Mr. Grimes knew about the planned robbery and fell under accomplice liability for all the actions in the incident.

Finally, the deputy attorney general urged the jury to consider all of the witnesses, evidence and jury instructions collectively.

Court documents listed addresses for Mr. Grimes in Bear and Wilmington.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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