Gregory Paul Hess, 65, walked into a Seattle gas station, bought a cup of coffee, and asked the station owner, “Could you do me a favor? Could you empty that till for me, please?”
Drawing a pellet gun from his waistband, Hess said, “Sir, I’m robbing you.” He then apologized for taking the money and said he needed it to pay his rent, feed his children and pay other bills. He thanked the gas station owner profusely and promised to pay him back “if I ever get on my feet again, sir.”
Caught on camera and leaving a fingerprint at the scene, the robber was quickly arrested.
When the police arrived at his door, he greeted them by saying, “I’m the one you are looking for.”
Mr. Hess said he had a degree from a culinary school - he likes to bake croissants - and that had enrolled in a hospitality management program at Seattle University. But he despaired of finding work, he said, because jobs were scarce and he had a criminal record: he served five years in federal prison for robbing five banks in Seattle and was still under federal supervision at the time of the robbery.
The gas station robbery was a spur-of-the-moment act, inspired by his fear that he would be evicted from his apartment. He told investigators that he got $200 from the robbery. He used part of it to pay a cellphone bill and buy food and gas, and he deposited $90 in a savings account, according to court documents.
Mr. Hess is single, according to other court documents, and does not appear to have children at home to feed.
John Henry, the gas station owner, is a deacon at St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, and said his faith kept him from panicking during the robbery.
“When God wants to take your life, he will take it,” said Mr. Henry, who came to the United States from Egypt 19 years ago. “If you believe that, you can take it easy and you have peace.”
He said he felt bad for Mr. Hess and thought it was a pity that he had not been taught better survival skills during his previous incarceration.
Mr. Henry said he has also suffered the effects of the recession. He works six days a week, 10 hours a day. A new gas station across the street is cutting into his business, he said, and he is struggling to stay afloat.
Judge Sharon Armstrong sentenced Hess in the midpoint of the recommended range, 51 to 68 months, enough to acknowledge his good attitude.
Kevin Dolan, the public defender, noted Hess was fortunate that the robbery had not been deemed a “third strike,” which would have sent him to prison for life without parole.
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