Xerox trial: Prosecutor says Wilbern ‘desperate and disgruntled;’ Defense refutes evidence – Democrat & Chronicle
In 2003 Richard Leon Wilbern was a “desperate and disgruntled man,” struggling financially after being fired from Xerox Corp. for constant absenteeism, a prosecutor said Thursday.
That desperation was so severe, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Gregory said in an opening statement, that on Aug. 12, 2003, Wilbern walked into the credit union at the Webster Xerox campus wearing an FBI jacket and a bulletproof vest, robbed it and fatally shot a customer.
Wilbern, 59, is now on trial in federal court in Rochester, accused of the robbery and the homicide of Raymond Batzel, 51, who was shot after refusing the robber’s demand that he lie down on the floor with other customers and bank employees.
When Batzel did not heed the demand, “the defendant’s response was immediate,” Gregory said.
Wilbern “shot Mr. Batzel point blank, right through the neck, killing him,” Gregory said.
Key to the prosecution is an umbrella left behind by the killer, who dressed in law enforcement attire to try initially to convince bank employees that he was there for a security assessment. After Wilbern was identified as a suspect in 2016 — Webster police and the FBI received a tip after a new push for information — FBI agents were able to secure a DNA sample from Wilbern.
That sample matches DNA from the umbrella, Gregory alleged. In fact, he said, the odds of it matching someone else would be one in 6.9 trillion.
That DNA technology will be a centerpiece of the trial, and defense lawyers have contended since Wilbern’s 2016 arrest that it is unreliable.
The New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was the only one that conducted the testing, which focuses on extremely small samples, and there were issues with validity, mishandling and contamination, Assistant Federal Public Defender Anne Burger said in her opening Thursday.
Identification, whether through DNA or witness testimony, is at the core of the trial, Burger said. Some individuals who called in leads to a tipline after the robbery identified the robber, who wore a wig, as a woman, she noted.
Witness testimony began Thursday and included:
• Retired Webster Police Officer Joseph Schirmer, who was one of the first officers at the scene in 2003 and testified that the credit union was hard to find on the sprawling Xerox campus on Phillips Road. “It was a very isolated and nondescript building,” he said.
Prosecutors argue that the robber-killer had to know where the bank was. Wilbern was a customer there.
• Karrie Whelehan worked in the same building as where the bank was housed and testified that she passed the oddly dressed man who turned out to be the robber as she was outside of the building. He carried an open umbrella over his head on a sunny day and made her feel so uncomfortable she cut short a smoking break, she said.
Minutes after she returned to her office, the building was locked down because of the robbery and she later told police of the individual she saw.
• Dan Nuijens, a bank customer who worked across the street from the Xerox campus, also passed the man, clad in an FBI jacket, as Nuijens was leaving the bank.
Nuijens opened the door for the suspect as the suspect entered the bank.
“It looked like (he) had a bad hairpiece and dark sunglasses,” Nuijens said.
Nuijens had left the parking lot by the time of the robbery. He said he returned to the Xerox complex after he saw surveillance photos on local television coverage. Nuijens said he realized he crossed paths with the suspect and wanted to share his story with investigators.