Man testifies he robbed bank, wanted to be in prison to avoid child support Holdup note was signed, included home address

March 12, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Peter Laurence Axelrod had a plan to avoid paying child support for his children during their formative years.

He would go to a federal court, admit that he robbed a Columbia bank and spend years in a federal prison where he couldn't be "harassed" for child support for his three young offspring.

But his plan flopped.

Instead of federal court, he's in a state court. And instead of federal prison, he faces the unwelcome prospect of serving a maximum 25 years in a state penitentiary in the robbery of a First National Bank of Maryland branch in Oakland Mills village center Sept. 28.

Now Mr. Axelrod, 49, of the 5700 block of Stevens Forest Road is fighting the bank robbery charge in Howard Circuit Court.

His lawyer is arguing that prosecutors have failed to prove that his actions constituted a bank robbery, because he made no implicit threat in his robbery note and allayed a teller's fears by announcing he was unarmed.

Nothing about Mr. Axelrod's case fits the mold of a garden-variety bank robbery. He was the $58,000-a-year personnel director at Kaydon Ring & Seal Inc., an industrial seal manufacturer in Baltimore, when he walked into the bank branch.

He handed the teller a typed note -- which carried his signature. The note also said he would be waiting to be arrested at his Columbia apartment. He testified yesterday that he typed the note at work that day and kept the text on his computer screen before leaving to make the heist.

He testified that he made certain to look at the bank's video camera, so he would be recognizable. And he carefully placed his fingers on the bank counter -- to leave his fingerprints.

Mr. Axelrod appeared nervous on the witness stand. His right hand trembled as he promised to tell the truth.

He testified that he decided a day earlier to rob the bank because he was overwhelmed by life's pressures and wanted to "drop out, disappear." He said he was on the verge of losing his job, "harassed" by his former wife for child support for their three children and sued for nonpayment of medical bills.

"I was tired. I didn't want to fight anymore," he said in response to questions from his lawyer, Samuel Truette. "I said I felt I only had two choices. One was to commit suicide -- I was too much of a coward to do that -- or to find a way to go to jail."

But under cross-examination by Kathi L. Hill, senior assistant state's attorney, he admitted that he wanted to go to jail because he would not have to pay $696 in child support every two weeks.

He said he married in 1981 and was divorced six years later. In that time, the couple had three children, now 9, 11 and 12 -- although he said he questioned whether he was the biological father of the youngest.

Mr. Axelrod said his former wife and the children, who now live in Jacksonville, Fla., screamed at him over the phone about child support payments.

He said the pressures for child support began to build at a time when he received a letter about a lawsuit filed against him for unpaid medical bills. Also, he said, he recently received a job evaluation that was so poor that his termination was imminent.

Mr. Axelrod also testified under cross-examination that he robbed the bank because he thought the crime automatically would fall into federal jurisdiction -- and many people view federal prisons as having more amenities than state prisons.

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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