Ex-UW football player Luther Leonard accused of Newcastle bank robbery

July 23, 2013

By Sara Jean Green

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NEW — 5:30 p.m. July 23, 2013

Fingerprints found on a discarded water bottle led police to arrest two men on Monday who had been dubbed the “Big Top Bandits” in connection with a series of take-over style bank robberies, according to a probable-cause statement outlining the police case against the men.

King County District Court Judge Mark Chow on Tuesday set bail at $1 million for Jeffrey Pool, 48, a Texas fugitive who fled to the Seattle area after committing armed robberies in that state. Chow ordered Pool to be held on investigation of five counts of first-degree robbery and on a fugitive warrant from Texas.

Pool’s alleged accomplice, Luther Ray Leonard, 23, was ordered held on one count of investigation of first-degree robbery, with Chow setting his bail at $100,000. Leonard is a former University of Washington football player, according to the probable-cause statement.

Leonard’s girlfriend, Thidu Duch, spoke on his behalf, telling the judge Leonard was a coach at Juanita High School and runs a football camp for kids. He also played football at Evergreen High School.

“He’s never been in trouble, he went to the UW and he doesn’t have a bad bone in his body,” she said.

But Chow was still troubled by the seriousness of the allegations against Leonard, saying “there are cameras, he confessed to it … he had what appeared to be a weapon and pointed it at customers and tellers.” Leonard was allegedly armed with a realistic-looking BB gun, according to the probable-cause statement.

Pool’s sister also addressed the judge in an effort to convince him to release Pool or lower his bail, saying her brother had a tough childhood and grew up without a father. Chow responded that he knows plenty of single mothers whose children have not gone on to commit violent crimes.

On July 1, two men entered the Bank of America branch in Newcastle, pointed guns at customers and tellers, and “performed a take-over-style robbery of the bank,” fleeing with an estimated $47,000, according to the statement of probable cause.

Surveillance cameras at the bank and nearby businesses captured footage of the men, which showed them tossing a plastic water bottle away prior to the robbery, which detectives later found, the statement says. Two sets of fingerprints were lifted from the bottle and positively matched to Pool and Leonard, it says.

On Monday, police executed a search warrant at the house the men share in Renton, arresting both of them, the statement says. A BB gun allegedly used by Leonard was found inside the residence, and a loaded 9 mm handgun was found in Pool’s room, it says.

Pool is also accused of committing four other armed bank robberies:

  • Jan. 16 at the Key Bank in Newcastle
  • Feb. 28 at a Key Bank branch on Rainier Avenue South in Seattle
  • May 22 at the Washington Federal Bank on Rainier Avenue South in Seattle. One suspect fired a shot inside the bank, according to police.
  • June 8 at the Sterling Savings Bank in Burien, where a bank teller was struck in the face by a suspect.

The FBI dubbed the men the “Big Top Bandits” because of their clothing, especially a variety of hats worn during each of the robberies.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com.

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