Between December 1992 and January 1993, three banks in Washington, Lake, and St. Louis counties in Minnesota were robbed at gunpoint. The robber carried a black, semi-automatic pistol hidden in a brown accordion file, and hid his left hand. After the third robbery, local television stations aired pictures of the robber taken from surveillance videos at the three banks. Shortly after the pictures aired, police in Duluth received an anonymous tip suggesting that the robber looked like Shaun Deckinga. Police went to Deckinga’s house in Duluth, where Deckinga and his girlfriend told police they were home together at the time of the third robbery, but could not recall their whereabouts during the first two robberies. While questioning Deckinga, police noticed that one of his front teeth was discolored, something noted by one of the bank tellers. Investigators then had tellers from each of the banks look at a photo lineup that included Deckinga. Tellers from the second and third banks robbed both identified Deckinga as the robber. Additionally, a Duluth man told the FBI that he had been shopping for snowmobile parts with Deckinga the day of the third robbery, contradicting Deckinga’s alibi.
While awaiting trial, Deckinga shared a cell with Joseph Mahurin, a jailhouse informant who had received reduced or dropped charges in exchange for his assistance to police on cases on multiple occasions. Mahurin told the FBI that Deckinga had admitted to robbing all three banks and that his girlfriend was involved. In exchange for the information about Deckinga, Mahurin’s sentence on some charges was reduced. Then, in May 1993, a bank in nearby Grantsburg, Wisconsin was robbed by a man using the same MO as the Minnesota robberies and wearing an ace bandage on his left hand. Deckinga’s attorney withheld the information, believing it was a better strategy to reveal it during trial to get an acquittal. At trial, several tellers identified Deckinga. The defense asked to call an expert who would have testified about the pitfalls of eyewitness identification, but the judge denied the request. In June 1993, a jury convicted Deckinga of the second and third robberies. Deckinga was acquitted of the first robbery, in which the robber also wore an ace bandage, because the jury reasoned that someone else had committed the first robbery and the Grantsburg robbery. Deckinga was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
While Deckinga was in jail, another bank in Wisconsin was robbed in June 1993 by a man using the same MO as the previous four robberies. Local police recognized a photo of the robber as Jerome Clepper. Police questioned Clepper and searched his home. Clepper had a tattoo on his left hand, and police recovered a black pellet gun made to look like a semi-automatic pistol, a brown accordion file, a black jacket, and a red jacket, all items seen in the prior robberies. Clepper confessed to all five robberies three weeks after Deckinga was convicted. Deckinga’s conviction was overturned, and the charges were dismissed in July 1993. Clepper later pled guilty to four counts of armed robbery.
- Shephanie Denzel