One chapter closes in 2012 bank robbery

A Marshalltown man who robbed a bank at gunpoint and whose accomplice shot a police officer was sentenced to 25 years in prison on state charges Thursday.

Abel Ramirez, 23, pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery on local charges and was previously sentenced to 14 years on federal charges.

Four victims testified during the sentencing about the terror they felt when Ramirez and Benjamin Crisantos entered the Lennox Employees Credit Union, 1004 E. Main St., on Nov. 2, 2012.

They described the event as a normal day turned into a nightmare as the two men rushed into the bank wearing masks, waving guns and screaming obscenities.

“This was the day I wondered if I would die,” Megan Wolken said. “As we silently prayed we wondered if we would see our children again.”

Shannon Pickett said she worked at financial institutes for 15 years, yet no training she’d been through could prepare her for the aftermath of the armed robbery.

“Although it happened quickly, to me it was slow motion,” Pickett said. “I prayed that these two men would not kill me and leave my kids without a mother.”

Following the robbery, she said she suffered from anxiety and depression for which she had to seek professional help.

Tracy Thomas also testified about the trauma she suffered during the robbery.

“When I was on the floor that day with my hands in the air and looked at you pointing that gun at me all I could see was the barrel to that gun,” Thomas said. “Seeing the wall behind me, I was thinking my blood could be splattered all over that. Would I ever see my daughter or husband again? I didn’t know.”

Assistant Marshall County Attorney Paul Crawford said the men got away with more than $13,000 in cash, which was later recovered. Officer Vern Jefferson was shot in the leg by Crisantos while pursuing the men on foot; he returned fire and provided police with vital information as to the location of Ramirez. Jefferson was later recognized for his valor by the state’s police chiefs association and the city of Marshalltown for his actions that day.

Ramirez spoke to the victims before his sentence was handed down, saying he regretted what he did and offered an apology.

“If you don’t forgive me, I can’t blame you,” he said. “There is no justification for what I did that day and I am sorry.”

District Court Judge Steven Oeth said he felt the 25-year mandatory sentence was appropriately severe. Ramirez is required to serve 17.5 years of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.

Ramirez will likely serve less than 18 years because a federal judge ordered his sentences be served concurrently. After serving the 14 years in federal prison, Ramirez will be required to serve the remaining time on state charges.

His accomplice, Crisantos, has had state proceedings suspended due to a possible mental disorder, which is being evaluated by physicians. Crisantos was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges. He is charged with attempted murder, among other state charges.