A judge agreed Thursday to release from jail a 70-year-old South Portland man who was charged last month with robbing a bank with a water gun.

Donald Sturton, 70, has been held at Cumberland County Jail since his March 7 arrest, unable to post the $5,000 cash bail that was set at his initial court appearance.

His attorney, Robert LeBrasseur, filed a motion to amend bail so Sturton could be released on what’s known as personal recognizance, or no bail.

“This is a 70-year-old individual who has zero criminal history. None,” LeBrasseur said Thursday in Cumberland County Unified Court. “This is an individual who was at the lowest point in his life but now sees the opportunity to turn things around.”

Assistant District Attorney William Barry opposed the motion, arguing that if Sturton was despondent enough to rob a bank a month ago, what has changed?

“I think (personal recognizance) bail is ludicrous,” Barry said.

Judge Jed French acknowledged Barry’s concerns but agreed to release Sturton, with conditions. He will be under house arrest with exceptions for counseling, meetings with his attorney and trips to the grocery store.

The judge’s decision was preceded by a debate between Le- Brasseur and Barry about the appropriateness of bail and the value of holding someone like Sturton in jail before they are convicted.

LeBrasseur said he believed Sturton was being unjustly punished simply because he doesn’t have the means to post a modest amount of cash.

“If someone who is charged with the same crime is able to post that bail, the state would be OK with it,” he said. “Because he’s not rich, he has to sit in jail.”

Barry responded, “I’ve been a district attorney for 18 years. I don’t recall any rich people getting charged with bank robbery.”

LeBrasseur said after Thursday’s hearing that he’s pleased the judge granted his motion.

Sturton was arrested by South Portland police in a parking lot at the Maine Mall, just minutes after he allegedly robbed the nearby Bank of America branch.

According to court documents, Sturton took the bus from his home in Red Bank Village, walked inside the bank and demanded money from a young female teller. He told the woman he had a gun but never showed it.

The teller put $895 in a reusable canvas bag and Sturton then walked outside. He had made no real effort to conceal his identity and walked to the parking area in front of JC Penney to wait for the bus to take him back home. That’s where police found him. The gun they recovered was a plastic squirt gun, held together with duct tape, that he used to train his cat to stop scratching furniture.

After he was processed at the South Portland police station, Sturton confessed. He told a detective that he had been increasingly depressed and disengaged in his life and decided that he was either going to take his own life or rob a bank so that he could go to prison. He said he robbed the bank with the hope that he would be caught.

LeBrasseur, retelling the details in court Thursday, characterized his client’s actions as a cry for help.

Barry, however, said the judge needed to consider the victim in this case – the bank teller who, according to police, slumped to the floor and started crying after Sturton left the bank.

The judge agreed that the teller was indeed a victim and included as a condition of release that Sturton not enter that bank or any Bank of America.

LeBrasseur said his client is willing, eager even, to engage with the teller on restorative justice. Given the chance, the lawyer said, he’d like to apologize and help her move past any trauma he may have caused.

He said Sturton plans to undergo counseling and look for less expensive housing. The rent for his apartment now is $10 less than his monthly Social Security check.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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