Brazen thief sentenced for Bible-study purse snatching at Panera

A thief who in front of multiple witnesses brazenly snatched a purse off a woman’s chair as her Bible study group met at Columbus’ Panera Bread restaurant pleaded guilty Tuesday.

The 17-year-old victim told police she never saw Brennan Lee Bates take her purse because he snuck up behind her while her back was turned, but he did it right in front of her study-group friends who were facing him, and she could tell from their expressions something was amiss.

“I could not see Brennan Bates approach my table, but rather saw the faces of my friends change as he stole my purse from the back of my chair,” the woman wrote in a sworn statement. “I did not know him, and he had absolutely no right to take my bag, which had my Bible, camera, wallet, and priceless journal of my senior year inside.”

Bates did not get far. The female leader of the victim’s YoungLife Christian group and a man who witnessed the theft immediately ran after him, chasing him from the 6307 York Drive eatery off Whitesville Road to a spot near the Rivertown Ford car dealership at 1680 Whittlesey Road, where they finally caught him.

During the pursuit, Bates took the woman’s wallet from the purse and ditched the bag, police said. The wallet had $120 in it, officers said. The incident happened at 7:25 a.m. March 6, authorities said.

They said Bates told police he took the purse because he needed money.

The 24-year-old pleaded guilty to robbery by snatching before Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan Jr. He was sentenced to 10 years, with 12 months to serve in jail and the rest on probation. Court records show Bates has run afoul of the law before, primarily for drug offenses.

During his preliminary hearing March 7 in Columbus Recorder’s Court, Bates’ mother told a judge her son needed drug rehabilitation, having been enrolled in such programs before.