LANCASTER – A 27-year-old man, charged with robbing three Lancaster restaurants within a two-hour span, appeared in an Antelope Valley courtroom Tuesday for a scheduled preliminary hearing.
The hearing for Damon Banks was postponed until July 26, at the request of both the prosecution and the defense.
Both sides needed a continuance to address several items, including the issue of identification, said Superior Court Judge Christopher Estes.
Banks and 27-year-old Lee Vance McQuilkin are accused of robbing Little Caesars, Wienerschnitzel and Subway, between 7 and 9 p.m., on Sunday, June 10. In each case, two men walked into the restaurant, held the employees at gunpoint, demanded money from the register and then escaped on foot, sheriff’s officials said.
On June 22, Banks was charged with five counts of robbery, and a $300,000 felony warrant for his arrest was issued on June 25. Banks was classified as “armed and dangerous” and placed on a Most Wanted list, which was circulated to the local media on June 25.
Banks’ family members have long insisted that Banks was nowhere near Lancaster when the crimes occurred and believe the case is one of mistaken identity. Read more here.
On July 3, Banks turned himself in to the Lancaster Station hoping to clear up what he believed to be a misunderstanding, according to his fiancée Alera Sugges. Banks was jailed that day and has remained in custody since.
“This happens to be a victim of a really, really bad set of circumstances,” said private defense attorney, Stephen A. King, who became Banks’ attorney on record as of Tuesday.
King said the case was still in the early stages, but much of the evidence was not adding up against Banks.
“Out of three locations, there was one location where they were not able to make an identification [of Banks],” King said. “They said that my client looked similar to the guy who had committed the robbery.”
King said all three robberies were captured on video surveillance.
“We don’t know the quality of those videos and we don’t have those videos at this point,” King said. “Even the district attorney doesn’t have them, the investigating officer has them.”
King said the prosecutor, Ted Swanson, had graciously agreed to take a closer look at the case before the rescheduled preliminary hearing.
“The district attorney is willing to step back from his pursuit and listen to everything in its totality and make a determination as to whether it’s going to be his recommendation to continue with the case or whether or not he feels comfortable making the recommendation that the case be dropped against my client,” King said.
King said he would be reviewing information from “GPS tracking devices and cell phone tower technology” along with several witnesses who placed Banks well outside of Lancaster during the time of the robberies. He hoped this information would be enough to convince the district attorney not to pursue the case any further.
In the meantime, Banks remains jailed on $300,000 bail. His bail cannot be reduced until the rescheduled preliminary hearing because there has been no change in the case, King said.
“He’s a working guy, he’s a father of three, he has a family that loves him and cares about him, and he doesn’t understand why this is happening to him at this particular stage of his life,” King said. “But I pleaded with him to give me a little more time to see if we can get the district attorney on our side.”
More than a dozen of Banks’ family members were in court Tuesday to offer support.
“Unfortunately an innocent person is still sitting behind bars for nothing…” said Banks’ mother, Cecilia Duckworth. “His reputation has been marred.”
Duckworth said her son has never been in jail before and is having problems coping with the isolation from his family and from his work.
“Since he’s been in there, he’s had chest pain,” said Duckworth. “He’s not tolerating it that well [because] he’s not someone who has ever been locked up like this.”
Banks’ preliminary hearing is now set for July 26.