Judge rules videotape can’t be used in Alpine Bank theft trial
The trial of a local woman accused of stealing from the bank where she was employed was unexpectedly called off Tuesday, when a judge threw out the main evidence against her.
Susana Braunthal may still face trial on the charges, but for now local prosecutor Lawson Wills must decide whether to appeal the judge’s decision, go ahead with the case without the dismissed evidence or simply drop the charges, among other possibilities.
“Right now, we’re just reviewing our options,” Wills said Tuesday.
The trial stemmed from charges that Braunthal, 50, stole $4,000 from Alpine Bank on Nov. 24, 1999, while she worked there as a teller. According to police, she took the money from another teller’s window while the other teller was away and was videotaped in the act by the bank’s security cameras.
According to court documents, authorities claim the tape shows Braunthal “go to [Janice] Rust’s teller station, open the cash drawer and stick her hand in the drawer.” But because the videotaping system switched to another camera at that instant, it’s not clear what happened next.
Nevertheless, Rust’s cash drawer came up short by $4,000 on that night, according to court documents. Rust allegedly told authorities that she had forgotten to lock her cash drawer when she left her station for a 10- to 15-minute period.
It was the videotape that the judge ruled inadmissible.
The ruling came in a pretrial conference in the chambers of Judge J.E. DeVilbiss Tuesday morning, before any potential jurors had been seated.
Defense attorney Fred Gannett renewed a motion to exclude the videotape, arguing that it had been irretrievably damaged in the ensuing months since it was recorded and is not reliable as proof that his client committed the theft.
Police and prosecutors have been struggling with the videotape, which reportedly has been viewed so many times that the quality of the images has deteriorated badly.
Gannett also asked the judge not to allow bank employees and police investigators to testify as to what they had seen on the videotape immediately after it was recorded. Gannett maintained that those witnesses cannot be properly cross-examined because of the tape’s poor current condition, which he said is a violation of Braunthal’s constitutional rights.
DeVilbiss ruled in Braunthal’s favor on that issue, as well.
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