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Cape Coral man convicted of bank robbery

By Staff | Sep 29, 2015

A Cape Coral man is facing prison after recently being convicted of robbing an Iberia Bank.

On Friday, a federal jury found Jose Benitez Jr., 45, of 1330 N.E. 20th Place, guilty of bank robbery with a dangerous weapon. Indicted in October, he was found not guilty of a second charge – using or carrying a firearm during the commission of a violent felony. His sentencing is scheduled on Jan. 4.

Attorneys Robert Harris and Patrick McLain represented Benitez.

“We never had any intention of fighting the bank robbery,” Harris said Tuesday, adding that his client even took the stand and testified to committing the crime. “He was upfront and honest about it.”

He explained that his team was focused on fighting the second count – use of a firearm – which, if convicted, comes with a consecutive mandatory sentence of at least five additional years in prison.

“Although it looked like a real gun, it wasn’t,” Harris said, noting that an airsoft gun was used.

An airsoft gun is a replica firearm or air gun.

“Our goal was to make sure he didn’t serve additional extra time for something he didn’t do, which was bring a firearm to the robbery,” he said. “He escaped the firearm enhancement. We are very pleased.”

The trial began on Wednesday with opening statements at the U.S. Courthouse in Fort Myers.

After two days of testimony, it took the jury about four hours to return with the verdict.

Harris said his team called his client’s daughter and daughter’s school principal to the stand. They testified that Benitez’s daughter had taken a selfie with the airsoft gun just before the robbery.

“We were able to put that replica in the family household,” he said, noting that the jurors took the time to analyze the evidence, despite the prosecution’s witnesses. “I’m proud of the jury for doing that.”

Harris reported that his client misses his family, but does not dispute his guilt.

Benitez faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

“He understands that having done something against the law, he understands that he’s going to pay a price, and he accepts that,” Harris said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bagge-Hernandez prosecuted the case.

According to officials, Benitez entered the Iberia Bank, at 812 S. Del Prado Blvd., dressed in black with his face covered at about 9:40 a.m. Oct. 8. He pointed a weapon at bank employees, putting them in fear for their lives. He also threatened the bank employees and forced them to get on the ground.

After demanding cash, Benitez received an undisclosed amount of it and fled on foot.

Officials reported that he left his glasses behind and a fingerprint was recovered.

Piecing together eyewitness accounts, surveillance video, tips from Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers and forensic evidence, police were able to show probable cause and obtained a warrant for Benitez.