An Australian man standing trial on a charge of robbing a Wyoming bank on New Year's Eve told jurors in an emotional opening statement Tuesday that he was justified because he gave much of the money to the homeless.
Corey Donaldson, 39, is acting as his own attorney in the trial in federal court in Cheyenne. The burly man choked up as he addressed jurors.
"I must say, I feel like a frightened child," he said.
Donaldson is accused of robbing a Jackson bank of $140,000 by claiming explosives were planted around the building.
In court Tuesday, Donaldson said he was the second of 11 children and grew up in the country outside Melbourne, Australia, only to see his own father lose his home to bank foreclosure. He said he's now a legal resident in the United States.
Donaldson said he became homeless late last year, coming face-to-face with people who were on the streets because of bank foreclosures. He said he became determined to put people ahead of the law.
"I came up with the idea that since the banks had been bailed out, and the people had not, I was going to confiscate money from US Bank in Jackson and redistribute it to the poor and homeless in America," Donaldson said. "And that's what I did."
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson ruled last week that Donaldson can't argue to the jury that he was justified in robbing the bank.
The judge upheld repeated objections from the prosecution Tuesday as Donaldson mentioned he had given much of the money to homeless people.
Jared Thomas Williams, branch manager of the Jackson bank, testified that Donaldson met with him in his office on the day of the robbery. He said Donaldson told him members of a Mexican cartel were outside the building, prepared to blow it up if Williams didn't turn over $2 million in cash.
"There were four military-grade explosives that had been buried in the snow, and they were prepared to detonate them," Williams said Donaldson told him. Williams said he loaded $140,000, nearly all the cash in the bank, into a duffel bag and gave it to Donaldson.
Under questioning from prosecutor Todd Shugart, Williams said he felt real fear, never doubting the truth of Donaldson's claims until after police arrived and searched the area.
"You feel like you've got to make peace with your maker," Williams said of how he felt. "You feel like this could be the end."
Donaldson asked Williams, "If you knew there were foreclosed people on the streets who feel that way every day, how would you feel about it?"
Shugart objected, and Johnson ruled that Williams shouldn't answer the question.
Investigators began looking for Donaldson after piecing together information from surveillance cameras in and around the bank. Authorities arrested him when his longtime friend Kevin Lee Day called police after Donaldson turned up at his home in a Salt Lake City suburb in late January.
Day choked up as he testified that he's been close friends with Donaldson for 16 years. Day said Donaldson told him where to find $8,000 after the robbery.
Day said he became emotional when he received the money, and that it came at a good time.
"What difference did that make to your family?" Donaldson asked him. Shugart objected, and Johnson ruled Day should not answer the question.
At the end of the questioning, Day and Donaldson each said that they loved the other.
Investigators testified Tuesday that they recovered about $30,000 after Donaldson's arrest. Donaldson told an FBI agent shortly after his arrest that he had intended to surrender.
Shugart rested the prosecution's case late Tuesday. Donaldson moved for a judgment of acquittal, claiming the government had failed to prove its case. Johnson denied that request.
Johnson warned Donaldson to consider carefully that if he decides to call himself as a witness when trial resumes Wednesday that he will be subject to cross-examination by the prosecution.