CLAYTON • Fresh out of a federal prison, where he served more than a decade for bank robbery, Darrell Ivan Bolden wore a ski mask when he launched a string of holdups around the St. Louis metro area in 2012.
He had a gambling habit and needed the cash, authorities say. He had great success in May of that year, in and out of the stores in less than a minute after terrorizing workers at gunpoint.
But his mistake, prosecutors say, was walking into a mattress store in south St. Louis County on May 28, 2012, and running into an employee built like a tank.
Bolden pointed a gun at the employee and cursed at him to get off the phone. The employee (a man weighing 290 pounds and standing 6-foot-4) was so enraged at the masked gunman that he fought back, and their fight spilled outside. Bolden put a gun to the man's head and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired.
In the scuffle, the employee ripped off Bolden's mask. Bolden bolted, but left the mask behind. That handed police the bit of evidence vital to catching him: DNA from skin cells inside the mask. Police arrested him in September of 2012, after getting results of the DNA match.
On Thursday night, a jury in St. Louis County Circuit Court convicted Bolden of seven felonies after seven hours of deliberations. Bolden was found guilty of three counts of first-degree robbery, three counts of armed criminal action, and one attempted robbery. He mainly targeted check-cashing stores, although the first robbery to start the month-long spree came at a Burger King in Richmond Heights, where he got about $200 from the manager at gunpoint.
The jurors at the end of a four-day trial couldn't reach a verdict on two other charges stemming from a separate robbery at a Check 'n Go store in north St. Louis County.
Bolden, 38, lives in the 2100 block of Edmund Avenue in Hillsdale. He will be sentenced March 19 by Circuit Judge Tom DePriest. Bolden faces life in prison on six of the charges. He also has a case pending in St. Charles County for a robbery at a St. Peters Check 'n Go store.
The DNA match cracked the case, authorities say, but St. Louis County assistant prosecutor Alan Key said other evidence against Bolden included his confession to police and taped jailhouse conversations he had with relatives.
At the trial, Bolden testified that police had put pressure on his family so he confessed to something he didn't do. But the taped conversations from jail after his arrest told a different story, Key said.
Bolden admitted in the conversations that he had robbed the stores. He told relatives he had gotten the idea to go after Check 'n Go stores from a girl named Cocoa who had inside knowledge of the business. Authorities never found that woman, Key said.
Bolden also blamed the robberies on a gambling habit and told relatives he wouldn't have robbed the stores if they had given him the money he needed, Key said. Bolden explained to jurors that he loved playing Caribbean poker on the gambling boats. He mentioned how he once won $3,000 and bought a car. But mainly, he lost.
Bolden's defense attorney, Steve Lewis, couldn't be reached for comment after the verdict. But Phyllis Spann, Bolden's mother, said her son was wrongly convicted. She said he couldn't have robbed the stores because he was spending all of his time either at a halfway house or at his factory job where he made weed killer.
"Because of his past, they wanted to hang this on him," Spann said in an interview.
Video surveillance after some of the robberies showed Spann's SUV near the scene of two of the robberies, Key said. Police found ski masks and plastic zip ties in that car, Key said. Spann said maybe the SUV on the surveillance wasn't hers. And she said police were lying about finding those items in her vehicle.
In 2000, Bolden was sentenced in in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis to 17 years in a federal prison for robbing Associated Bank in Fairview Heights in November 1999. He was released in February 2012. His co-defendant, Mark Rachel, was sentenced to 22 years and eight months in prison for his role in the holdup.
Authorities say Bolden and Rachel entered the bank, wearing masks, and took $125,972 at gunpoint and forced six bank employees into a closet. Their car was spotted by Fairview Heights police, who pursued them at speeds up to 100 mph before the robbers crashed on a highway ramp.
The check-cashing store holdups netted Bolden far less. His biggest haul, according to court documents, was about $1,100 from one of the check-cashing stores.