Well-mannered young men’ in court

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 12, 2001

Robbery suspects Otis Banks, left, and Troy White are transferred from Municipal Court Wednesday. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[07/12/01] Otis Banks and Troy White were ideal employees, Lucille Foreman said, stockers who went to work at County Market with smiles on their faces and a steady supply of yes-ma’ams and no-sirs that charmed employers and customers.

Foreman, a County Market manager, said Banks and White were high school graduates with plans for careers in the military, maybe even college. Both did their jobs without trouble, she said, sweeping the aisles and stocking the shelves of the Clay Street grocery in the summer of 1999.

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That was one year before police say they robbed it. They might face life in prison now.

Banks, 21, 108 N. Locust St., and White, 22, 110 E. Deer Creek Road, Redwood, were both in Municipal Court Wednesday on four counts of armed robbery and 13 counts of kidnapping. Each count of armed robbery carries the possibility of a life sentence, District Attorney Gil Martin said.

The charges stem from a string of violent holdups that, since last August, have seared the image of two masked men brandishing guns and spewing profanity into the minds of merchants and employees in three Vicksburg groceries and one restaurant.

The County Market robbery happened on Aug. 24. Affidavits say Banks and White were also behind heists at McAlister’s Deli on Clay Street on Jan. 13, SuperValu Fresh Foods on Indiana Avenue on Jan. 18 and Sack and Save on South Frontage Road early Wednesday. Police arrested the pair in the Sack and Save parking lot after responding to an alarm at the building.

Police are also investigating whether they will be accused of robberies in Jackson, Louisiana and Texas.

Both men were denied bond by Municipal Judge Allen Derivaux and remained in Warren County Jail. Their cases will be presented to the county grand jury, which convenes this month.

“Anybody who did this and robbed three other places, too, deserves a lot of punishment,” said Amber Grogan, a shift leader at McAlister’s who was bound and forced to lie on the floor of a walk-in cooler when the restaurant was hit on Jan. 13. “I don’t think I should say what I would say to them.”

Clayton Barnard, also working at McAlister’s that night, said none of the employees knew if the robbers would spare their lives.

“It was scary. They had us on the ground and were cussing at us,” Barnard said. “You never know what’s going to happen in a situation like that.”

Affidavits filed in Municipal Court say employees at all the victimized businesses had experiences similar to the McAlister’s employees’ they were bound with tape, rope or tire tracks as two burglars emptied safes.

Dwayne Williams, another County Market manager, said the heist there happened like a movie, one of those films where cool-headed burglars rob a store with speed and efficiency.

“They obviously knew what they were doing,” Williams said.

“They came in, two muscular guys with black masks with eyeholes and stocking caps under that so you couldn’t see their eyes,” he said. “They ran in the office to get the money, and they kept marking the time. They yelled, 3 minutes!’ and 5 minutes!'”

Williams said the store has taken precautions since the heist, keeping an eye out for suspicious customers around closing time and hiring armed security guards. They’ve had no problems since, he said.

Foreman said she wishes her faith in people were as easy to repair.

“I mean, you think you know somebody,” she said. “These were well-mannered young men. They had futures. They got caught red-handed, but I still can’t believe it.”

Banks’ mother, Savannah, can’t picture her son as a thief, either.

“He’s my baby,” Mrs. Banks said after the arraignment. “It hit me hard. I just can’t see it.”

More than 10 of Banks’ relatives were at the hearing, and they yelled at their grandson, son, nephew and cousin not to accept a court-appointed attorney. White, who did not appear to have family in the courtroom, will be represented by a public defender.

“I’m glad they’re off the streets,” Foreman said. “But I sure didn’t see it coming.”