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United States v. Farris

July 9, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
TRAVIS FARRIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 06-CR-20029-Michael P. McCuskey, Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge

ARGUED APRIL 10, 2008

Before FLAUM, KANNE, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

Defendant Travis Farris was found guilty on three counts related to a bank robbery and filing a false insurance claim. Farris committed these acts with his long-time friend, Jesse Matthew Coartney, who as part of a plea agreement, testified against Farris at trial. On appeal, Farris challenges the sufficiency of the evidence against him and the reasonableness of the within-Guidelines sentence he received from the district court. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. Background

Farris's convictions stem from his criminal involvement with his grade school friend, Coartney. The two had met in the third grade in Mattoon, Illinois, and remained best friends after graduating from high school in 2000. They were a striking pair, with Coartney standing at 6 foot, 7 inches and weighing 495 pounds when the crimes occurred, and Farris checking in at 5 foot, 7 inches and 170 pounds.

According to Coartney's testimony at trial, in February 2004, he and Farris concocted a plan to obtain the insurance proceeds for Farris's Kia Sportage, which needed fixing. On February 17, Coartney drove to southern Illinois as part of his delivery job with Schwan's. While down there, Coartney called Farris, informing him that he had found a location where they could burn the Kia to get the insurance money. On February 20, Farris and his wife, who had been staying at Coartney's trailer, drove the Kia down to southern Illinois. That night, Coartney and Farris drove in separate vehicles to the rural location Coartney had scoped out. The two then broke the windows to the Kia, took out the battery, poured gas on the car, and set it on fire. They then went back to the hotel, picked up Farris's wife, and drove in Coartney's car back to his trailer.

The next morning, on February 21, Coartney and Farris launched their bank robbery plan. According to Coartney, this is something the two of them had discussed doing since high school, although their plans had turned more serious in early February. They obtained supplies in advance-Coartney purchased a police scanner at Wal-Mart, the two stole a mask from the same store, and Farris bought a nine millimeter gun at Oakley's Bicycle Shop. They also first tried their hand at robbing a Ramada Inn where Coartney had previously worked, but were unsuccessful. The morning of February 21, they took the supplies listed above, as well as gloves, a jacket, and duct tape, and drove Farris's Mercury Cougar, with duct-tape covered license plates, to a U.S. Bank in Mattoon. It was a little before 10 AM at the time, and Farris reminded Coartney that they needed to hurry, since Farris had a meeting with an Army recruiter that morning.

At 9:43 AM, the surveillance video at the U.S. Bank in Mattoon captured two masked white males robbing the bank. As the bank teller testified and Coartney corroborated, the first robber (who, according to Coartney, was Farris) jumped the counter holding a gun, and ordered the teller to the ground while he proceeded to go through the drawers for money. The teller identified the first robber as being about five foot eight inches and of average build. As for the second robber, the teller did not get a good look at him, but identified him as being about the same height, but stockier. He was carrying a police scanner and asked the teller where the bank's videotape was located. Meanwhile, a second teller had been in the bathroom when the robbery began, and when she came out, she was ordered to the ground at gunpoint by the first robber. The second teller also described the first robber as somewhere between five foot seven and five foot nine, and of average build. Although this second teller heard the second robber's scanner, she never got a look at him.

While this robbery was occurring, a customer pulled up to the bank's drive-up window. Looking in, she saw the two masked robbers and noted a large size difference between them. When the robbers pointed at her, the customer drove off to the police station. As Coartney testified, he and Farris, upon seeing the customer, fled the bank, got into Farris's car, and drove about one mile back to Coartney's trailer. Once at the trailer, as the two had already planned, Coartney took all the "equipment" from the robbery, including the money they had stolen, and drove his car three or four miles to a garage owned by Farris's parents. Farris then drove his Cougar, without any incriminating evidence in it, to his parent's garage by a different route. Once there, the two divided up the cash they had stolen (approximately $3,600) and reimbursed each other for the costs of the gun and the scanner. Farris then called his brother James about being late for the Army recruiting event, and then the two split up.

At first, it appeared Farris and Coartney had gotten away with the crimes. On February 22, two days after burning the Kia, Farris reported the vehicle as stolen to the Mattoon police and filed a claim with his insurance company. Meanwhile, an officer in southern Illinois had found the Kia in flames the night of February 20. Farris's insurance company investigated Farris's claim and on March 8, 2004, issued Farris a check for $4,400. On July 23, 2004, however, federal and local law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Coartney's trailer, in which they located the bank's surveillance videotape, a police scanner, and a ski mask. That evening Coartney was arrested, where he confessed to the robbery, identified Farris as the other robber, and told the officers of their involvement burning the Kia. Four days later, while Farris was on leave from the Army, authorities interviewed Farris, who denied any involvement in burning the Kia or robbing the bank.

A grand jury indicted Farris on three counts in April 6, 2006, with a superseding indictment including an additional count being issued on November 2, 2006. Count 1 alleged that Farris and Coartney conspired to commit armed robbery at the Ramada Inn and U.S. Bank and to commit mail fraud (burning the Kia and filing a false claim report) in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 1341, 1951(a), and 2113(a). Count 2 charged Farris with committing the bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a) and 2, while Count 3 alleged a Hobbs Act violation under 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) with respect to the robbery of the Ramada Inn, as well as a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2. The final count against Farris was for using a firearm as part of the bank robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

A jury trial followed in which Coartney's testimony against Farris was corroborated by many other Government witnesses. At the close of the Government's case, Farris's counsel filed a motion for acquittal under FED. R. CRIM. P. 29, which was denied. Defendant's evidence was then presented, during which Farris took the stand in his own defense. With respect to his Kia, Farris denied that he was in southern Illinois on February 20 or had any role in the vehicle being burned. Farris also presented an alibi for his involvement in the bank robbery, claiming that he attended an Army event at 10 AM the morning of the bank robbery, and that it would have been impossible for him to have also robbed the bank less than 20 minutes earlier. Farris's brother and cousin confirmed that they attended the event and arrived together with Farris. The Army Sergeant in charge of the recruiting function that day was also called as a witness by Farris. He testified that these recruiting events typically started "at about 10:00," and that this particular event started sometime between 10:00 and 10:20 at the latest.

At the end of the trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Farris on all but Count 3. The case then proceeded to sentencing, with the Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") recommending a Guideline range sentence of 63 to 78 months for Counts 1 and 2, and an additional mandatory consecutive sentence of at least 7 years (84 months) for Count 4. There were no objections to the PSR or Guidelines calculations, leaving the district court to determine a reasonable sentence. Farris's sister-inlaw testified to him being a good family man, and Farris's wife further testified to Farris's attentiveness to her health problems and the hardship his incarceration would have on the family. After ...


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