Man said he was persuaded to assist in bank robberies by suspect's vision

String of thefts netted more than $450,000

September 10, 2002|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

God gave Nacoe Ray Brown the idea to rob banks to fund his financially struggling gospel dinner theater, Kevin L. Hilliard testified in federal court yesterday.

That vision, which Hilliard, 34, said Brown related to him in February last year, persuaded Hilliard to assist the man he used to believe was a prophet in a string of bank robberies that netted more than $450,000.

Now Brown, 34, is standing trial on four counts of bank robbery, and Hilliard -- who pleaded guilty to his role in one robbery -- is testifying against Brown as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. Hilliard said that he scouted the banks and drove the getaway car.

"He said it was not like the money was going to personal things," Hilliard said at the opening of Brown's trial. "It was going to a godly kingdom."

The four Baltimore County holdups during spring last year gained attention for the robber's disguises -- once he wore hospital scrubs and a stethoscope, another time, a stylish suit and fedora -- as well as his roughness with bank employees. Tellers and managers said they were dragged by their hair and forced at gunpoint into a vault and onto the floor.

Hilliard and Brown were arrested June 27 last year allegedly on their way to another robbery. Hilliard agreed to testify for the government a month later.

Since then, Brown has backed out of two plea deals against the recommendation of his lawyer, Kenneth W. Ravenell, the attorney said yesterday. Brown has also tried to saw his way out of federal custody, prosecutors say, and has been indicted on a charge of attempted escape.

Tiffany Carter, a friend of Brown's, sent him two packages containing saw blades while he was in prison, according to court documents. She told police that she and Brown planned to flee to California or Texas. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Luna said the government would likely call Carter, who has also reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, as a witness in the robbery trial.

In his opening statement, Ravenell argued that witnesses have never clearly identified Brown and urged the jury to discredit Hilliard's testimony -- the only testimony jurors heard the first day.

"I'm telling you right now, Mr. Hilliard will lie because it will help him get a lesser sentence," Ravenell said.

Brown's gospel dinner theater, Shekinah's Place on Guilford Avenue, has closed, Ravenell said after court.

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