October 22, 2014

Elyria
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Man found guilty in bank robbery retrial

Robert Starnes Jr. was found guilty Tuesday for a second time of robbing three Lorain County banks in 2010.

Robert Starnes

Starnes, 41, originally was convicted in federal court two years ago of robbing the banks and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out his conviction earlier this year because of improper searches conducted by authorities.

Starnes is due to be sentenced again in February, according to a news release from the office of U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach.

Starnes robbed the Lorain National Bank branch on North Ridge Road in Elyria Township of $4,616 on June 28, 2010, and took $4,653 from the FirstMerit Bank branch in Amherst during a July 14, 2010, robbery. He struck a third time on July 21, 2010, making off with $1,845 from the Chase bank branch in Sheffield Lake.

A parole officer with the Ohio Adult Parole Authority recognized Starnes from bank security photos. Once Starnes was identified, the Parole Authority used what it claimed was Starnes’ status as a parolee to raid the Sheffield Lake apartment he shared with his wife, Kimberly Starnes.

During the search of the apartment and Robert Starnes’ vehicle, the FBI recovered several pieces of evidence, including a piece of paper with impressions matching a note used during one of the robberies.

The problem with the search, Starnes argued, was that he wasn’t actually on parole at the time and the Parole Authority had no right to conduct a warrantless search of his property. Parolees cannot refuse searches by their parole officers.

Starnes pointed to a March 2010 court filing from Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery in which the judge ordered the Parole Authority to stop supervising Starnes. Rothgery had converted Starnes’ parole in two 1993 cases to probation as part of a 2005 plea deal designed to wrap up all of Starnes’ pending legal cases.

But instead of appealing Rothgery’s order, the Parole Authority sent the judge a letter informing him that they disagreed with his decision and planned to continue supervising Starnes.

Starnes asked Rothgery several times to hold the Parole Authority in contempt of court for ignoring his order, but the judge declined to do so.

Although federal and state officials argued that the Parole Authority was correct, the federal appeals court concluded that the Parole Authority overstepped its powers and shouldn’t have been monitoring Starnes.

A new trial was ordered for Starnes in which none of the evidence gathered during the illegal searches of his apartment and vehicle was allowed to be used against him. The appeals court decision said prosecutors still had eyewitness testimony and surveillance footage they could use against Starnes during the second trial.

Kimberly Starnes received probation in the case after pleading guilty to federal charges of making false statements to law enforcement.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.