MIAMI (CBS4) – Michael Mitchell, the so-called “honest bank robber” who turned himself in more than four years after robbing a Florida Keys bank in 2007, was sentenced to three years in prison.
Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia sentenced Mitchell, 54, Monday morning after Mitchell pleaded no contest to robbery. Also on Monday, Mitchell made restitution to the bank – paying them back more than $2,600.
Mitchell’s story was chronicled by CBS4 News in February.
On October 25, 2011, Mitchell was carrying all of his possessions in a back pack. He had a change of clothes, a tooth brush and tooth paste, a razor and a stick of deodorant. He had been staying on a friend’s couch – but now he was out on the street.
Mitchell walked over to a pay phone in front of a McDonalds in Louisville, Kentucky and made the call he had been thinking about making for more than four years. It would be a call that would change his life. The only thing he didn’t know was if it would be a change for the better.
The call Mitchell made was to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. He told Detective Mark Coleman he wanted to confess to a 2007 bank robbery in Tavernier, Florida. The call caught Coleman by surprise. The bank robbery was a cold case – there were no suspects, no leads, and no active investigation.
“I’m going to have to pull the case,” Coleman told Mitchell, the call tape recorded by the sheriff’s department. “Can you do me a huge favor? Can you hang out there by the McDonalds for a few minutes?”
“Yeah, I sure can,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell wondered if in the meantime perhaps Coleman could arrange to have cops in Louisville take him into custody.
“I have no place to stay and no place to go,” he explained. “I was hoping maybe the local authorities could pick me up and hold me till somebody comes up here.”
Detective Coleman made a few phone calls and before long Mitchell was sitting in an interview room inside the Louisville Police Headquarters telling his story to the Louisville cops.
“This is about a bank robbery, August 2007, down in the upper Florida Keys,” Mitchell told the Louisville detectives, according to a videotape of the interview obtained by CBS4 News.
Mitchell told the detectives he had to come forward.
“Man it’s just eating me up,” he said. “I can’t deal with it anymore.”
“Well obviously your a good man, a big man, better than most,” one of the detectives told Mitchell.
Mitchell explained that on August 21, 2007 he was desperate, broke and living out of his car. Mitchell had been in Florida for only a few months in 2007 when he decided to rob the TIB bank in Tavernier.
“Never done anything like it before, never done anything since,” Mitchell said.
According to Mitchell, as well as police reports, Mitchell walked into the bank around 11 a.m. that morning. He showed the teller a note and placed on her counter an old cell phone that he made to look like a bomb by wrapping it in electrical tape and adding a few stray wires and two pen light batteries.
The teller handed Mitchell all of the money in her drawer. And without saying a word Mitchell walked out of the bank and drove away.
His total take — $2,630.
After the robbery, Mitchell drove north out of the Keys.
“First thing I did was drive up to Fort Lauderdale, go to the beach and just got drunk,” Mitchell told the Louisville detectives.
“Were you battling any demons at that time?” one of the detectives asked.
“Oh yeah, the bottle big time,” Mitchell said.
After a few days, Mitchell left Florida and returned to his family’s home in Ohio.
“I walked for 4 years, I could have stayed walking,” Mitchell said. “Nobody talked to me, nobody charged me, nobody suspected me, nobody even knows who I am.”
And Mitchell was right. Monroe County Undersheriff, Rick Ramsay, says that immediately after the robbery another man was identified by one of the customers in the bank as being the possible robber. That person was arrested but within a few weeks it became clear the police had arrested the wrong man.
After that, leads in the case dried up.
“We had no more tips coming in,” Ramsay admitted. “It would have been an unsolved case.”
That is until Mitchell came forward.
“I’ve never seen one like this before,” Ramsay said. “This is amazing.”
Mitchell told detectives in Louisville he was sober now – working through AA’s 12 steps – including the one about making amends.
“Had a lot of time to do a lot of soul searching,” he said. “I told myself that the reason I can’t do anything any more is because I’ve got this hanging over me. And it’s going to keep on hanging over me and it’s just time to do something about it.”
The Louisville detectives tell him they’re not sure how much prison time he might be facing. He tells him he’s already looked it up.
“It’s a minimum of ten in Florida,” Mitchell says matter-of-factly.
“Like you said, it’s ten minutes of your life you wish you could get back,” one of the detectives said in a consoling voice.
“Ten for ten, trade ten minutes for ten years, that’s what it amounts too,” Mitchell said with a shrug.
“It sounds kind of rough,” the other detective agreed. “It is what it is.”
“You gotta pay the tax,” Mitchell said.
The detective asked him what he would say to the teller if she were here now:
“I’d tell her I was sorry,” he said. “I always remember the look on her face. She was just frozen. It was like she just came out of a freezer, she just stood there for a split second. Lord the girl must have been scared to death.”
CBS4 News contacted the teller. She declined to comment on the case.
In December Mitchell was extradited to Monroe County from Kentucky. His public defender worked out a deal with prosecutors. Prosecutors agreed to the three year prison term. Since he has already spent nearly a year in prison, Mitchell will likely be released in eighteen months.