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Bank robber to serve 55 years in prison / August 02, 2017
Joseph Lee Sims Jr. of Halifax, one of four suspects charged in connection with a February 2015 armed robbery of the BB&T bank branch in Bracey, was sentenced Monday to an active sentence of 55 years in prison.

Sims was previously convicted on 20 felony counts, including entering a bank to commit armed robbery, abduction, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of a weapon by a violent felon, robbery and wearing a mask. Circuit Judge Leslie Osborn imposed a total sentence of 273 years in prison but suspended all but 55 years.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Nash told Osborn ahead of his sentencing decision that the robbery had a tremendous impact on a bank employee who was working at the time. Nash said the employee’s victim impact statement conveyed the wretched impact of the crime — she is now unable to sleep at night, and relives the robbery almost every day. She suffers from PTSD, Nash said.

Based on these and other circumstances, Nash asked Osborn to impose an active sentence of 60 years. Sims’ attorney, Charles Crowder, asked for a sentence of only 23 years, the minimum mandatory punishment called for under sentencing guidelines. Crowder said his client was trying to do right by owning up to the offense.

Osborn said he took into consideration Sims’ record — ten prior convictions including burglary, abduction and robbery — and added that the money spent by the state to incarcerate Sims would be money well spent. He also considered the “professional nature” of the robbery and the impact on the victims.

The robbery took place around 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. Three men wearing masks and armed with handguns ran into the bank demanding money. They ultimately escaped with more than $5,000.

During the robbery, they pointed guns in the faces of customers inside the bank as well as at employees who were working the teller line, while a third man ran behind the teller line into an office and ordered the occupants out of the office at gunpoint.

Nash said the witnesses described the operation as efficient and professional.

The three men then ran out of the bank and jumped in a van that was driven by a female. A concerned citizen witnessed the men jumping into the van and followed them in his vehicle as the robbers fled the scene. This citizen communicated the relevant information about the van to 911, which led to the robbers’ capture by officers with the Norlina (N.C.) Police Department with backup provided by the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.

The suspects offered no resistance when stopped. A search of their van by police resulted in the recovery of the stolen money, along with masks, money bags, and firearms.

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