HOUSTON (CN) – He’s been dead for two years, but the suspected mastermind – a meticulously clean, aspiring real estate developer who police say shot and killed two armored-car guards with a sniper rifle – loomed large over a robbery trial that wrapped up Thursday in Houston federal court.
Counsel for four men charged with helping Redrick Jevon Batiste in a foiled plot to shoot an armored-car courier at a North Houston bank in December 2016, snatch a cash bag and drive off told the jury Thursday in closing arguments that Batiste was a master manipulator.
Prosecutors say Batiste fatally shot the two guards in March and August 2016 at long range from a hole he cut into the back of a white Toyota 4Runner.
Attorney Nicole DeBorde represents Nelson Alexander Polk, 40, who prosecutors claim drove the getaway car in the August murder of Loomis armored-car courier David Guzman.
They told the jury Polk was behind the wheel as a masked man jumped from the vehicle and snatched a bag filled with $120,000 cash.
Though Polk allegedly confessed to his involvement in that theft, and the foiled December robbery plot, prosecutors did not play any recording of his confession for jurors. The jury only heard testimony about Polk’s purported confession from a law enforcement officer.
In closing arguments, DeBorde said Polk was the perfect patsy for Batiste. She said Polk was homeless, living in a vacant lot down the street from Batiste’s house in the Acres Home neighborhood of northwest Houston when Batiste recruited him for his robbery schemes.
“Polk thought he was a king and thought he had figured out how to live a good working life,” she said.
Batiste reportedly got a haircut and manicure every week, owned three modest Houston homes, worked for a roofing company and had aspirations of opening a salon and day care.
The government put on lots of evidence: Excerpts from phone conversations Batiste had with his alleged accomplices after the FBI tapped his phone, and GPS tracking data and audio and video footage from a Jeep Cherokee rental that Batiste stole after police, knowing he planned to steal it, bugged the vehicle.
In November 2016, according to prosecutors, police observed Batiste, Polk and another man, Marcus Hill, casing an Amegy Bank in North Houston watching a Loomis armored car dropping cash off there, and nailing down the schedule of its stops.
DeBorde said, “The government has an outstanding case against a very nasty individual. A manipulative, conniving, smart individual named Red Batiste. We know how Batiste manipulated throw-away human beings who had the misfortune to cross his path.”
In addition to Hill and Polk, others charged in the case include Bennie Charles Phillips, 31; John Edward Scott, 43; and Trayvees Duncan-Bush, 31.
Duncan-Bush pleaded guilty in September 2018 and testified for the prosecution that Phillips had recruited him to be the cash pick-up man for the planned heist.
Phillips sat very still throughout the closing arguments. Wearing a sweater vest, his neck tattoo barely visible over the stiff collar of his white shirt, his bushy goatee hanging over his brown bow tie, he looked as if he was heading to college classes after the hearing.
His attorney David Cunningham said he has an airtight alibi: He was meeting with his parole officer on Dec. 7, 2016, as Houston police sprung their trap on Batiste and company.
Houston police testified they executed the sting that morning as Polk and Duncan-Bush sat in the 4Runner in the bank parking lot, waiting for the Loomis truck to pull up to an ATM behind the bank.
According to testimony in the nine-day trial, SWAT officers moved in on Batiste as he watched from the driver’s seat of the Jeep Cherokee at a nearby apartment complex, from which he planned to shoot the courier as soon as he or she stepped out of the truck to fill the ATM.
He traded fire with officers, was shot in the leg and chest, and died at the scene. He was 37.
As SWAT officers were taking out Batiste, Houston police drove the armored car into the 4Runner and Polk and Duncan-Bush jumped out and ran. They were quickly arrested.
Police testified that Scott was in the area serving as a lookout man, while Hill was sitting in his car nearby ready to whisk Polk and Duncan-Bush off after they ditched the 4Runner.
Hill’s attorney Neal Davis said in closing arguments that although prosecutors charged his client with helping execute the robbery in which the Loomis guard was killed, the only evidence they have linking Hill to the heist is cellphone location data from cell towers.
Davis told the jury Hill’s cellphone location data also disproves the prosecution’s theory that he helped Batiste plan the foiled December robbery.
The attorney said it shows Hill was in the area for minutes at a time, not the hours that prosecutors said he sat in his car in the bank parking lot, helping figure out the armored car’s scheduled drop-off times.
Davis also said there’s an easy explanation for all the records of phone conversations and text messages between Hill and Batiste: Batiste worked for Hill.
Hill reportedly owned several businesses, including a gourmet popcorn store and a welding shop.
“It makes no sense that this businessman, this family man, would be robbing banks, that he would rob banks just for a few thousand dollars,” Davis said.
Scott’s attorney Michael DeGeurin said in closings he was an “unwitting pawn” in Batiste’s planned robbery and he did not know Batiste had brought a gun.
He said the cellphone evidence showing Scott talked frequently with Batiste in the weeks leading up to the failed heist only shows they were old friends.
The prosecution tried to undermine defense claims that Batiste had manipulated each defendant and kept them in the dark about his plans.
“Don’t be fooled. These defendants were fully informed and fully vested,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Winter said.
In a 20-minute concluding argument, Winter’s colleague Rick Hanes cited the testimony of Houston police officer Chris Anderson, who stated in his 39 years with the department he had “never seen” anything like it, where a man purportedly gunned down victims with a sniper rifle and then had his associates rob them.
“You know the crazy thing? They didn’t even know how much money was in the bag. They knew the guard would be killed and then they’d find out,” Hanes said.
All four defendants were charged with helping with the attempted December 2016 heist, while Hill and Polk face two additional charges for their alleged involvement in the August 2016 murder and robbery of Guzman.
If convicted, they could all be sentenced to decades in federal prison. The jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon.