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No robbery charge for would-be thief


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A man down on his luck who set out to rob a Greenwood bank is facing a charge of intimidation and can’t be charged with robbery, the prosecutor said.

That’s because a robbery wasn’t a robbery when the would-be robber gave up and surrendered himself when the bank teller started crying, Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper said.

Brownsville resident Steven Thau, 55, has been charged with intimidation, not robbery, for his abandoned effort to rob a bank in Greenwood this month.

Police said Thau was a recently unemployed pipe fitter who had been sleeping in his car when he decided to walk into the Chase Bank near Main Street and Emerson Avenue and jotted down a note demanding money. He lost his nerve when the teller started shaking and crying, so he told her to set off the alarm and that he wasn’t going to hurt anybody.

 

He then let the bank employees leave and waited for police to come and arrest him.

Legally, what’s at issue is that he abandoned the crime he had set out to commit, Cooper said.

Indiana law has a principle called abandonment, which means defendants can argue they’re not guilty if they back down from a crime before it’s completed, Cooper said.

“He abandoned the crime,” he said. “He didn’t carry out the robbery.”

Cooper said the aborted robbery was extremely rare, and he can’t recall any cases in which someone started to commit a crime and then stopped.

“This case is definitely a strange one,” he said.

Thau also has no significant criminal record, Cooper said. That lends credibility to his claim to police that he stopped because he felt guilty.

However, he did commit the crime of intimidation when he passed a note to the teller demanding money and saying he had a gun, even though he didn’t, Cooper said.

The prosecutor’s office charged him with a Class D felony, which can carry a sentence of six months to three years in prison. Thau could have faced up to five additional years in prison if he were charged with and convicted of robbery.

Police said Thau recently lost his wife to divorce, his house to foreclosure and his job. He hadn’t eaten for a day before the robbery and was sleeping in the parking lot of the Denny’s restaurant next to the bank he tried to rob without a gun or a mask.

Thau told police he couldn’t figure out what to say on the note he wrote on a deposit slip and ended up writing “I have a gun” and “give me money in a bag.”

He told police he attempted the robbery because he was down on his luck, and that he picked Chase because “they took his house.”

A detective felt so bad for Thau that he gave him a brown-bagged tuna sandwich he had planned to eat himself for lunch.

Cooper said Thau’s recent string of luck wasn’t a consideration when it came to filing charges. He said the lesser intimidation charge was just a matter of law, since Thau never finished the crime he started.

He surrendered without incident to a dozen police officers, who had surrounded the bank with their guns drawn. He’s being held at the Johnson County jail on $8,000 bond.

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