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Guilty plea in Pr. George's bank robbery plot that ended on Beltway

Ruben Castaneda

A District man who who took a Clinton bank manager and her family hostage at gunpoint in a bank robbery attempt has pleaded guilty to kidnapping and other charges in Prince George's County Circuit Court.

Yohannes T. Surafel, 25, also pleaded guilty to first-degree assault, using a handgun in a crime of violence, and two counts of false imprisonement, according to Prince George's prosecutors.

Surafel entered his plea on March 5, but the issue of his guilt was not resolved until last Thursday.

On that day, following a week-long hearing, Circuit Court Judge Michael Pearson turned down a defense motion seeking to have Surafel deemed "not criminally responsible" for his actions. Surafel's defense argued that Surafel suffered from a mental disorder that left him incapable of determining right from wrong.

According to investigators, Surafel got the idea for the scheme by reading an article on the Internet describing how a group of assailants in Tempe, Ariz., took a bank employee hostage to rob a bank. Surafel enlisted a couple of co-conspirators to follow bank employees home to determine where they live, authorities said.

On the evening of Dec. 26, 2008, Surafel and his accomplices waited for LaChrista Hamilton, an employee at a SunTrust Bank in Silver Spring, to return to her home in Clinton after her shift. When the woman arrived, Surafel and an accomplice, wearing masks and gloves and armed with a knife and a gun, forced their way into the home.

Surafel and his co-conspirator tied up Hamilton, her husband, James Spruill, and their children, aged 11 and 8, with electrical cord and held them overnight.

The robbers said Surafel would go to the bank the next morning with Hamilton and the rest of the family would go to another location with the accomplice. In a bid to keep his family together, Spruill said they were expecting a visitor in the morning.

It wasn't Spruill's only savvy move.

Surafel decided to keep the entire family together, and they all piled into the family car the next morning for the drive to the bank in Silver Spring.

As he drove on the Beltway near Route 1 about 7:30 a.m., Spruill noticed a Maryland state trooper in his rearview mirror.

Spruill began to swerve, prompting the trooper to pull him over. When the trooper, Barrington Cameron, asked Spruill for his driver's license, Spruill instead handed over his bank card hoping to signal that something was wrong.

Spruill then lunged into the back seat, pinning Surafel's hands while he warned Cameron about the gun. The trooper drew his weapon, and Surafel surrendered.

Surafel is scheduled to be sentenced April 30.

On of Surafel's co-conspirators, Yosef Tadele, 24, of Silver Spring, has pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to kidnapping, said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. Tadele is scheduled to be sentenced March 26.

A third accomplice is at large, Korionoff said.

-- Ruben Castaneda

By Ruben Castaneda  |  March 16, 2010; 7:58 AM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse , Pr. George's , Ruben Castaneda  | Tags: Barrington Cameron, James Spruill, Yohannes T. Surafel, bank robbery  
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