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Man sentenced to 25 years for Hempfield robbery

| Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011

A Crafton man who shot a Hempfield credit union teller during a January 2010 robbery will spend the next 25 years in prison, a federal judge ruled today.

David Louis Mathis, 47, apologized to the Westmoreland Community Federal Credit Union employees who attended his sentencing and asked the judge to consider the difficulty he had in finding a job or place to live in 2009 after serving 15 years in prison for a 1994 conviction on five counts of armed bank robbery.

"To each of them, I would like to say that I'm truly sorry," he said.

Two of those people asked the judge to consider a longer sentence than the 25-year maximum that was part of Mathis' plea bargain with the government.

Maria LaVelle of Latrobe, the chief executive officer, said Mathis' attack has left deep wounds with her and her colleagues.

"We jump every time someone drops something," she said.

Turning to face Mathis, she said there's one reason they keep returning to work.

"If we don't, you win," she said.

The woman Mathis shot didn't attend the hearing.

Diana Hickman of Greensburg, a teller who was present when Mathis robbed the credit union, said it had been a friendly place to work. After the robbery, it was hard not to feel apprehensive every time someone walked through the door, she said.

"He took that all away from us," Hickman said. "We look at people differently now."

LaVelle said after the hearing that she and the other credit union workers have had to relive the incident frequently during police and FBI interviews and during court hearings, so getting Mathis' sentencing behind them gives them some relief.

"We have been in this together since Jan. 8," she said.

Mathis pleaded guilty in July to the robbery. He said today that he never intended to fire the 9mm pistol he carried into the bank on Jan. 8, 2010. The left-handed Mathis said he was carrying the pistol in his right hand to disguise his identity, and his unfamiliarity with the weapon caused him to fire the gun accidentally.

U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose questioned how a man who rose to the rank of sergeant in the Army and had previously committed several armed bank robberies didn't know how to handle a firearm, particularly since he fired it twice at a group of tellers inside the bank and at least once outside at a person driving a car that was blocking his escape route.

"It is very difficult for me to think that any of those things happened accidentally," she said.

Mathis also pistol-whipped another teller during the robbery.

"That certainly wasn't an accident," the judge said.

Ambrose also sentenced Mathis to five years of probation and ordered him to pay $228,925.61 in restitution to Liberty Mutual for the workers' compensation claims it paid as a result of the crime.

Charges are still pending against Lamont Laprade, 35, of Huntington, W.Va., who drove the getaway vehicle for Mathis. They fled the scene with $6,878 in a blue bag, according to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Michael Nealon.

The bag and the money were recovered from Laprade's SUV, which the two men abandoned in a cemetery near New Alexandria. Police followed their tracks in the snow on a circular route of about two miles before finding Laprade hiding in a barn.

Mathis escaped the initial search but apparently spent the night outside. The next day, he accosted a man who was blowing the snow from a driveway, Nealon said. Mathis's clothing had become soaked and frozen to him, Nealon said.

Brandishing a 9mm pistol, Mathis demanded food, clothing and a car, and the man agreed to give Mathis some sweat pants and socks before driving him to Westmoreland Mall, Nealon said. The man called police after dropping Mathis off at the mall, and officers arrested Mathis.

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