A woman was sentenced Friday to nearly six years in federal prison for taking part in violent takeover-style bank stick-ups in the San Fernando Valley.
Demenia Hawkins, 40, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner to serve five years on supervised release following her 70-month prison term.
Hawkins pleaded guilty in February to a single count of aiding and abetting armed bank robbery.
One of four defendants in the case, Hawkins acknowledged working with crew leader Robert Michael St. John and Michelle Edwards in the heists of a Citibank branch in Granada Hills on June 15, 2017, and a Chase bank branch in North Hills the following month.
Prosecutors wrote that Hawkins reported suffering abuse both as a child and an adult, and was manipulated by St. John, “who has taken advantage of vulnerable women for decades.”
Hawkins’ attorney had requested a three-year sentence for his client.
In a letter to the court, Hawkins, who previously lived in North Carolina, wrote that she was not “mentally stable” at the time of the crimes.
“My racing thoughts and voices told me it was OK to do this because I needed a lot of financial assistance,” the mother of five wrote.
In the first robbery, Hawkins admitted waiting in the getaway car while St. John held up the bank. On July 7, 2017, St. John provided real-time instructions to Edwards through a headset and cell phone during the robbery while he waited in the getaway car. Hawkins admitted she collected about $2,000 from the tellers.
Edwards was sentenced in June 2019 to six years behind bars for her role in six heists that left bank tellers reeling from what the sentencing judge called “significant” emotional trauma.
Edwards was recruited to join the bank ring by St. John, a career criminal who was serving time in a previous case when he contacted her, then-U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said last year.
During the robberies, a disguised Edwards brandished a gun and, in at least one instance, told a teller she would “blow your head off” if the bank employee didn’t comply, the judge said.
The “significant short- and long-term effects” of the crimes on the victims was “obvious” when they testified during St. John’s trial, Otero said. Testimony was halted in the case after a few days when St. John agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery, and he was sentenced by Otero in May 2019 to five years behind bars.
Fourth co-defendant Savion Cheatham pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count and was sentenced in August 2019 to 18 months in federal prison.