Crime - Sacto 911

This guy robbed three banks. Should a bad childhood and divorce earn him a break?

Gregory Jerome Brown cuddles with his infant son before his marriage crumbled and he took to robbing banks. Brown faces sentencing for holding up three banks on Wednesday in a Sacramento courtroom.
Gregory Jerome Brown cuddles with his infant son before his marriage crumbled and he took to robbing banks. Brown faces sentencing for holding up three banks on Wednesday in a Sacramento courtroom. U.S District Court filings

There's not much question that Gregory Jerome Brown went on a three-state bank robbery spree beginning in Auburn last October.

He called the FBI to turn himself in after the third robbery, gave agents a full confession, then signed the bank surveillance photos they had of him robbing the banks.

Within weeks, the 28-year-old former businessman pleaded guilty to three counts of bank robbery in a case that could net him 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, which is about 43 times more than the $5,810 he netted in his heists.

His federal defenders are asking for a substantially lower sentence when he is scheduled to appear in court in Sacramento on Wednesday, noting that he suffered a horrific childhood, never hurt anyone in the robberies and has taken full responsibility for his behavior.

“From the moment he turned himself in to law enforcement, Mr. Brown has done everything in his power to cooperate with the government and right the wrongs he has committed,” Assistant Federal Defender David Porter wrote in a sentencing memorandum to U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller.

Porter is asking for a sentence of five years and three months, arguing that his troubled past and the positive steps he has taken while in custody at the Sacramento County Jail deserve some measure of leniency from the judge.

The government had not filed a sentencing recommendation by Tuesday morning, but it seems clear Brown, of Bountiful, Utah, was hardly a desperado.

His crime spree lasted only three weeks, beginning Oct. 13 at a Wells Fargo branch in Auburn where he got away with $4,650 and made his getaway on a black motorcycle. One day later, he robbed a Reno Wells Fargo of $1,040, and three weeks after that he hit a credit union in St. George, Utah, for a disappointing take of $120.

Brown never made any effort to disguise himself or displayed a firearm, and his federal defender suggests in court papers that his crimes stemmed from a divorce that left him despondent after a lifetime marked by abuse and psychiatric troubles that include a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

“His childhood was marked by torture, upheaval and dislocation ...,” Porter wrote, adding that Brown was the victim of a bitter divorce battle between his parents and ended up as a ward of the state that left him moving from home to home 50 times.

As a 6- or 7-year-old, court papers say, Brown recalls accidentally letting his pet bird out of its cage and being beaten by his mother, who hit him on the head with a broom stick half a dozen times. Other times, court papers say, she would drop him off at a gas station for misbehaving, saying, “I wash my hands of you” and driving away.

For a 10-year period that began when he was 8, court papers say, he spent time at the Sacramento Receiving Home, foster homes in Sacramento and Citrus Heights, a mental health facility in Placer County, a group home in Ukiah, juvenile hall in San Joaquin County and numerous other placements.

Life didn’t improve for him as an adult, with court papers describing him being kidnapped by gang members in Salt Lake City when he was 19. The gang members forced him to lure a friend to their location in hopes of finding another victim to rob.

“His friend was then murdered, execution-style,” court papers say. “Then Gregory was forced to commit three robberies.”

Brown escaped and ended up in police custody as a witness for two years, including 13 months in solitary to keep him safe, court papers say.

Eventually, Brown began attending the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City and began working in various jobs that included opening a business brokerage.

He met a woman he ended up marrying in January 2015 and the couple had a boy, but his marriage eventually fell apart, court papers say.

Since his arrest in November, Brown has tried to prove he deserves another chance, his lawyer says, enrolling in jailhouse classes for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Life Skills, yoga and other programs.

His mother, ex-wife and former associates have written character letters to the court on his behalf, describing Brown as compassionate and a diligent worker.

“In short, Mr. Brown’s crimes were out of character — perceived as an aberrant act by the people who know him best,” his lawyer wrote.