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United States v. Williams

decided: April 6, 1978.


Appeal from judgments of conviction for armed bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) and (d), and for conspiracy to commit bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.

Kaufman, Chief Judge, Smith and Meskill, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kaufman

KAUFMAN, Chief Judge:

Charles Williams and Robert McGray raise a multitude of issues in seeking to overturn their convictions for armed robbery and for conspiracy to commit bank robberies. Having carefully reviewed the record, we find little merit in any of their host of contentions. Accordingly, we affirm. The convoluted facts underlying this appeal present a colorful exposition of the methods and manners of a troupe of bank robbers. We will traverse them in some depth so that the points of law will be placed in perspective.


Sometime before early February, 1976, this saga began to unfold. During those early days, Curtis King was invited to the home of Ronald Bell to meet the appellants Charles Williams (a/k/a "Chaz") and Robert McGray (a/k/a "Sabu"). The visit was arranged to determine whether King had any experience or interest in the field of bank robbery. While King admitted that he was a novice, he evidenced a willingness to learn, and Williams and McGray were ready to conduct their graduate course in how to rob a bank. A series of lessons in the fine art of bank robbery followed. King learned such vital facts as how to distinguish "wrap" money from "bait" money, the proper attire to be worn during "heists," and the significance of a "flip spot" -- the place where one switches from a getaway car to a legitimate car. King also rehearsed his role. Stacks of papers were distributed throughout King's apartment, and King's agility was honed as he dashed to retrieve this pretended wealth.

Several weeks later, the group decided that the European-American Bank in Westbury, Long Island, would be the locus of their first robbery. McGray would act as "floorman," securing the bank by keeping everyone in check with a shotgun. It would also be his responsibility to time the robbery with a stopwatch and, at the end of sixty seconds, signal the robbers' departure with the command, "Race!". Bell, Williams and King would be the "countermen," whose task was to vault the teller's counter and retrieve money from the cash drawers. King was also instructed to assemble the necessary gear, including ski masks, gloves and guns. Gary Graham joined the group as the driver of the getaway car.

On the morning before the robbery, certain members of the coterie stole a four-door Plymouth to use as a getaway car. The automobile was then parked on a street in Long Island, in the general vicinity of the "target" bank. The following morning, meeting where the stolen car had been left the previous day, the five individuals proceeded, in the purloined car and three of their own vehicles, to the so-called "flip spot," an apartment complex located two minutes away from the bank. There, the group donned the clothing they would wear during the robbery, including ski masks, left their own cars on the apartment premises, and then proceeded to drive in the stolen car to the bank.

The robbery progressed according to the scenario. McGray first entered, wielding a shotgun, and told everyone to drop to the floor. King, Williams and Bell followed, vaulted the counter, and searched for the money. Ironically, King's extensive bank-robbing education seemed to have failed him. He testified, and his story was corroborated by a bank teller observing the robbery, that he left empty-handed after a frantic search for funds. Williams and Bell were more successful, however, and managed to filch approximately $23,500. On McGray's command, the robbers then fled from the bank, and Graham transported his four cohorts to the apartment complex. There, they removed their "gear" clothing, stashed the money in a duffel bag, abandoned the stolen car, and proceeded to Brooklyn with their booty. Eventually, the group united at King's apartment, where each took his share of the loot.

Several weeks later, McGray called King from Chicago to determine whether King (or, perhaps, another member of the group) would be interested in another robbery. After a short conversation with Williams and McGray, and a subsequent discussion with Bell, King decided to join Williams and McGray in Chicago. Williams advised King that Theresa Jordan, William's girlfriend, would oversee travel arrangements. A few days later, Jordan and King flew to Chicago. Upon arriving at O'Hare Airport, the two were met by Williams and a man named Robert Hairston. The four then proceeded to the Hyatt Regency Hotel where Williams, assuming the alias "Louis McIntosh", had reserved several rooms. They were joined shortly by McGray.

During the next three days, the group scoured the area for a "suitable" bank, and finally settled on the Kilbourne State Bank. True to their tried modus operandi, Williams, McGray and King proceeded, on the afternoon of March 11, 1972, to the "flip spot," a driveway behind a house. There, they left their own car, and drove to the bank in a stolen brown American Motors Matador. Upon arriving at the bank, McGray "secured" the floor, and Williams and King proceeded to work behind the counter. A moment later, the three fled the bank at McGray's command with their spoils totaling $37,000. They then sped to the "flip spot", changing back into their street clothes en route. Abandoning the stolen car, the joint venturers drove to Chicago where, in a room at the Hyatt Regency, the proceeds of the robbery were divided.

Following the Milwaukee robbery, King, Jordan and another woman flew back to New York, where Williams and McGray appeared to be headed for Atlanta. Upon King's return, he gave Bell and Graham, who had not even been in Chicago or Milwaukee, $2000 each from the proceeds of the theft in Milwaukee, ostensibly for their having been "on call." Exhilarated by their mounting success, the clique of robbers gathered to plan another robbery. In early March, after Williams and McGray had returned to New York, the group searched for a suitable bank, and a decision was reached to rob the Nassau Savings and Loan Association. On the evening before the robbery, King stole a brown Ford from a garage in Brooklyn, and the car was "positioned" for use the following day. The subsequent heist followed the traditional pattern. The group met at a parking lot behind several residential buildings, and proceeded to the bank in the stolen car. Once at the Savings and Loan Association, McGray "secured the floor," and Williams and King worked behind the counters. A moment later, the robbery was over, and the three men had taken off with almost $25,000.

Little progress had been made toward apprehending the robbers until November, 1976, when Curtis King was arrested for the hold-up of a Monticello, New York bank. About one month later, he commenced giving the federal agents information about the three robberies, and ultimately concluded an agreement with the government during January and February, 1977. In return for his testimony on the three robberies, implicating Williams, McGray, Bell, Graham and Hairston, King was promised concurrent sentence treatment for the Monticello offense, and leniency at sentencing.

Shortly thereafter, the government filed its five-count indictment. Count One charged Williams and McGray, together with King, Bell, Graham and Hairston, with conspiracy to rob a series of banks within the Eastern District of New York and elsewhere during the period January 1, 1976, to May 31, 1976. Counts Two and Three charged the two, together with King, Bell and Graham, with the February 9, 1976 robbery of the European-American Bank. Counts Four and Five charged them with the May 6 robbery of the Nassau Savings and Loan Association.

After the cases of Bell and Graham were severed and Hairston pleaded guilty, the trial against McGray and Williams commenced. At trial, the government relied heavily on the testimony of King since none of the employees at the three banks could identify any of the masked felons. In addition, the prosecution sought to corroborate King's testimony through an intricate web of circumstantial evidence. A series of observations spurring a chain of investigative events served, the government contended, to establish the identities of the ...

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