Ga. suspect's behavior tips off churchgoers

By Saeed Ahmed
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

MARIETTA, Ga. — First, the moral of the story: If you rob a bank and make your getaway by trying to blend in among churchgoing folks, you'd best be ready for some divine intervention.

Garrett Lee Ledbetter, 27, learned this lesson Saturday morning when two church members --- both of whom just happened to be retired law enforcement officers --- realized something wasn't quite right as Ledbetter walked among several volunteers unloading food for distribution to area churches.

"He was holding on to his stomach, and at first I thought he was sick," said Joseph Hermon, a 54-year-old retired special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "But then, we saw the 50s and the 20s come floating out of his T-shirt."

The holdup had gone flawlessly for Ledbetter. He walked in to a Bank of America branch just off the Marietta Square on Saturday morning, told the teller he was armed and demanded $20 and $50 bills from the bottom drawer, said Marietta police Officer Gwen Lewis.

It was the getaway that got him. Here's what police and Hermon said happened:

Ledbetter stuffed the money under his T-shirt and walked across the street to Mount Zion Baptist Church, where volunteers were taking out food from a tractor-trailer and loading them on to church vans.

As he walked, Ledbetter left a trail of bills that cascaded down from his shirt.

A woman shouted, "Sir, you're dropping your money." But Ledbetter kept walking. Another volunteer asked, "Sir, are you OK?" But he kept walking.

So, Hermon grabbed one of Ledbetter's arms. And Terrence Royster, a retired New York corrections officer, grabbed his other arm.

As they led him to the church steps, a third volunteer walked behind them --- reaching down to pick up the cash as it fell.

Ledbetter kept insisting he got the money from his parents. We're going to hold you until the police arrive, Hermon said. "You tell them about your newfound fortune. And if they let you go, you can go."

Police didn't. They found a kitchen steak knife on Ledbetter and the loot, said Officer Lewis. They charged Ledbetter with armed robbery and burglary.

Turns out that sometime before allegedly robbing the bank Saturday morning, Ledbetter broke into the church through a back window, Lewis said. Ledbetter ran off without taking anything when he noticed the custodial staff inside, Lewis said.

Which brings us to the other moral of the tale: Don't tempt your fate twice in one day. 

Copyright 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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