Four people who were Columbus Bank & Trust tellers in 2008 testified in court Wednesday to the terror of being robbed at gunpoint in what was then the bank’s 5445 Forrest Road branch.
“You really thought you were going to die,” recalled a woman who said two robbers burst into the branch right before it closed at 5 p.m. Sept. 10, 2008, yelling for everyone to get down on the floor.
She was among the witnesses testifying Wednesday in the racketeering, armed robbery and murder case against Daphene Ann Castille, her son Jamal Hakeem Castille and Dantrell Cornelius Marshall, who are accused in the robbery and in the fatal shooting of David Coleman Jr., a police informant gunned down after the heist.
Bank witnesses said the robbers had their faces covered and brandished handguns as they rushed in, shouting “This is real!” and ordering everyone to the floor.
They said one robber went through the lobby binding people’s wrists with zip-ties as the other twice yelled “Where’s the f-----g manager?” before threatening to start shooting.
The head teller volunteered that she was the manager, and the shorter of the two robbers ordered her to open the bank vault, she testified. She said the robbers got $196,000 from the branch the bank closed in 2011.
Another worker, who was 18 and fresh out of high school, said he tried to quit after the robbery, but was persuaded to come back and still works for the company. He said the experience changed his outlook, because he’d never had a gun pointed at him, nor felt he’d come so close to death.
What ran through his head as he lay on the bank floor was, “Today might be the day my mother has to identify her son and put him away,” he testified.
Police believe Daphene Castille planned the robbery, and her son Jamal, Marshall and another suspect named Terrell Mars carried it out. Mars is not on trial this week because he has made a deal to testify for the prosecution.
Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker told the jury Wednesday that the Castilles and their cohorts robbed the bank to compensate for the loss of a cocaine shipment confiscated July 12, 2008, when a Texas trooper stopped Marshall, Daphene Castille and a man named Johnerson Adams on Interstate 10 east of Houston.
Adams testified Daphene Castille hired him to be her driver in exchange for cocaine and cash. He said she paid $15,000 for the load of cocaine outside a strip joint. Sold on the street in Columbus, the coke would have been worth about $40,000, he said.
Adams was driving a Dodge Magnum back to Columbus when Texas state trooper Sgt. David Alvarado stopped it for following another vehicle too closely. Finding Adams’ nervousness suspicious, the trooper started checking the occupants’ identifications. Another trooper arrived as backup.
Adams, who was on probation, abruptly tried to run away, but Alvarado caught him, the trooper testified. He then removed all the car’s occupants, putting Adams and Daphene Castille in his patrol cruiser as officers searched the Dodge.
Unaware she was being recorded while in custody, Castille told Adams that Marshall, who was 17 at the time, would “take the charge” for the two adults, who could claim they knew nothing of the cocaine. On the recording, she can be heard asking Adams, “If he takes the charge, why would they keep us?”
The three later bonded out of jail, and the case was never prosecuted. But losing the cocaine left the Castilles and their cohorts in need of cash to get back into the drug business, so they planned the bank robbery, Whitaker said.
When a customer wanting crack came by his home in a friend’s car, Jamal Castille offered crack in exchange for the car’s use, the prosecutor said. Jamal Castille, Marshall and Mars used the blue Chevrolet Cavalier in the bank robbery, Whitaker said.
The car’s description was broadcast on the news right after the robbery, so Daphene Castille paid the owner to report it stolen, Whitaker said.
An informant’s tip led police later to search Daphene Castille’s home, where they left a copy of the search warrant, which listed what officers were looking for, Whitaker said.
Studying that document, Daphene Castille decided Coleman, who provided the guns for the heist, must have been one of the police informants, the prosecutor said, adding witnesses heard her say, “I’ll toe-tag the m----------r.”
About 2 a.m. Sept. 22, 2008, Coleman was at a window of his Lawyers Lane home when a barrage of bullets came through from outside, wounding him six times, police said. He died in about an hour.
Investigators discovered two different guns were used in the homicide, Whitaker said.
Representing Marshall, defense attorney Tim Flournoy told jurors Jamal Castille and Mars carried out the bank robbery. Marshall traveled with them, but decided not to participate when they got to the bank, and instead stayed in the car, the attorney said.
Flournoy said Mars and Jamal Castille also were the two who gunned down Coleman, and Marshall was not involved in the homicide.
On Oct. 17, 2008, authorities arrested Daphene and Jamal Castille and Mars, charging them with bank robbery and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Jamal Castille was being held in the Harris County Jail when he escaped with two other inmates on April 19, 2009. They were recaptured the following April 27 in Liberty County, Ga.
Flournoy said Jamal Castille and Mars were prosecuted by federal authorities, because bank robbery is a federal offense. Marshall was not prosecuted, possibly because at age 17, he was a juvenile under federal law, Flournoy said.
In February 2010, Mars was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison for the robbery. In June 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land sentenced Jamal Castille to 20 years in prison for the robbery and for escape. Flournoy said Daphene Castille made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to an unrelated drug charge.
On Sept. 20, 2012, cold-case homicide investigators decided they had sufficient evidence to arrest Daphene Castille and Marshall for Coleman’s slaying. That led to additional charges against Jamal Castille and Mars.
On Dec. 27, 2012, a Muscogee grand jury indicted all four on charges of murder, bank robbery and violating the RICO or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.