The first time Heidi Saunders saw David Dwinell was 16 months ago, when he was wearing a stocking over his face, pointing a loaded gun at her and demanding money.
The second time she saw him was Monday in court, where a handcuffed Dwinell was sentenced to 27 years in prison for robbing Saunders’ bank and three others in the Tampa area.
“It was the most terrifying day of my life,” Saunders said. “But I do forgive him. I’m sorry for what he’s done to himself and his family.”
U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore said Dwinell put his victims “on the receiving end of terror, looking at the end of a gun” and called Saunders a “remarkable woman to be able to forgive this man.”
Whittemore then sentenced Dwinell to 27 years in prison and five years probation. Dwinell, 52, also has to pay $38,882.50 in restitution, the amount authorities said he stole from the four banks.
Dwinell, dubbed the Bank Bag Bandit by investigators for the way he carried out the money, could have been sentenced to a maximum of 107 years for his crimes, prosecutors said.
But Dwinell had no criminal history prior to the bank robbing spree and he had pleaded guilty to the charges in January, prosecutors said.
Dwinell’s attorney was satisfied with the sentence.
“Twenty-seven years is a lot,” Mark O’Brien said. “But it’s much better than 107.”
Dwinell robbed Saunders’ bank, the BB&T Bank, 6213 State Road 54, New Port Richey, twice — the first time in 2010 and the second two days after Christmas in 2011, according to court documents.
He also robbed two banks in Tampa and one in Spring Hill during what Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacie Harris called a one-year crime spree “that terrorized everybody in his path.”
When he was caught, Dwinell told investigators he was a former manager of Bonefish grill and had fallen on hard times. He turned to robbing banks as a way to pay off debt and day-to-day expenses, court documents said.
Dwinell said a brief apology Monday in court.
“I’d like to apologize to the courtroom for my crimes and to the institutions and employees,” he said. “And to my family and friends.”
None of Dwinell’s friends or relatives attended.
Saunders said being in court on Monday made her relive her encounter with Dwinell. She said she had just finished helping a customer at the drive-thru teller window when he entered the BB&T Bank.
“I turned, smiled and said hi,” Saunders said. “He said, ‘No,’ and pointed a gun at me. My worst fears came true.”
Dwinell demanded money from Saunders’ top and bottom drawers and from the vault. He stashed the $13,768 in cash into a bank bag and took off.
Saunders said she now has to take medication to help with anxiety and stress. She quit working at the bank two months after the robbery because she was suspicious of almost everyone who walked in.
Dwinell showed no reaction and did not look at Saunders.
After the hearing, Saunders said she had no fear confronting her assailant and feels a sense of closure. Dwinell looked frail in his jail-issued jumpsuit, she said.
“He looked a lot different today in court than when he pointed a gun at me.”