12 years For Tearful 'Cell Phone Bandit'

Published: Mar. 3, 2006 at 7:21 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2006 at 4:17 PM EST
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(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) -- After tearfully apologizing to the bank tellers she robbed, the young woman dubbed the "cell phone bandit" was sentenced Friday to 12 years in prison.

Candice R. Martinez, 20, gained notoriety when a surveillance camera video showed her calmly chatting on her cell phone while a nervous teller complied with a typed note demanding cash.

"Every day I've seen her face in my mind," said Mekeda Smith-El, a teller at one of the suburban Washington, D.C., Wachovia bank branches Martinez robbed.

While Smith-El did not testify during the sentencing hearing, she told reporters afterward that she recalls the note handed to her demanded $75,000.

That Oct. 12 heist -- the second of four -- netted about $14,000, and was followed by robberies in Springfield, Manassas and Ashburn.

U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee sentenced Martinez to five years for conspiracy to commit bank robbery and seven years for using a firearm in a crime of violence.

The sentence was identical to one Lee handed down a week earlier to Martinez's boyfriend, Dave C. Williams, 19.

Williams admitted to being on the other end of the cell phone, as well as driving the getaway car and using his computer to write the note. The first robbery occurred at a Vienna bank where Williams once worked.

"Her and Mr. Williams are equal partners," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Rich. He reminded the judge that the pair studied Williams' Wachovia employees' manual before the first robbery, and composed the note used in the robberies together.

The teller in the Oct. 20 robbery testified she underwent counseling to continue working at the bank.

"Even if she had no intention of hurting me, I didn't know that," Jessica Dickerson, 20, said during a tearful courtroom statement.

"I'm sorry, very, very sorry," a crying Martinez said after the judge asked her to face Dickerson.

Investigators say Martinez and Williams netted a total of $48,620 which was used for everything from a plasma screen television to a 1997 Acura Integra. The couple also spent $2,000 on a Chihuahua puppy they named Capone. Lee has ordered them to make full restitution for the $43,850.46 not recovered.

Martinez's mother testified about her daughter's troubled childhood which she said included physical, emotional and sexual abuse that led her to seek out the security of Boys and Girls Town in Nebraska, where she lived from age 12 to 17.

"She didn't have a stable home," testified Michelle Medina. Outside court, Medina called her daughter "a good girl, and she's sorry for everything she did."

"It happened in a matter of weeks, but it seemed like seconds," Martinez told the court.

"My whole life is ruined."

But Smith-El wasn't buying it.

"I've been through things, I don't decide to go and rob a bank," the teller said. "I have a father who is incarcerated, but I work hard for my money."

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)