Ex-deacon sentenced for holdup

SPARTANBURG, S.C. --- A former South Carolina church deacon who tried to rob a bank was sentenced Thursday to almost 11 years in prison after a federal judge heard emotional testimony from relatives who pleaded for mercy and from bank employees whose lives were threatened.

Bruce Windsor's wife and the oldest of their four children looked on in tears as Mr. Windsor, 43, was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in federal prison.

"I am scared and overwhelmed at the prospect of raising four children alone," Heather Windsor told U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd. "We're a close, simple family, and we're devastated."

Mr. Windsor pleaded guilty to federal bank robbery and weapons charges in October. Prosecutors have said the family man who coached his children's soccer teams donned a homemade mask and wig, stormed into a Greenville bank on Feb. 26, pointed a .38-caliber revolver at two female employees, took them hostage and demanded cash from the bank's vault.

Ninety minutes later, the women were freed peacefully, and Mr. Windsor was arrested.

Hostages told the judge their ordeal lasted less than two hours but left them with lifelong scars.

"That day will haunt me for the rest of my life," Melinda Whitmire said, her voice shaking. "He should not be allowed to walk the streets."

Ms. Whitmire, who knew Mr. Windsor as a bank client, described how he used a phone to call his wife, crying as he asked her and his hostages to pray for him. "I told him, 'You're a father. You should not be doing this,'" she said.

Lorraine Wiggs, the other hostage, said she felt certain Mr. Windsor would kill them. "I needed to prepare myself to come face to face with the Lord," she said. "Bruce screamed that he was ready to die, and that we were going to die with him."

After his arrest, Mr. Windsor's family blamed his crime on troubles related to the financial meltdown.

"This is something Bruce has never done," his sister, Lisa Weaver, said in late February. "The only think I can think of is he must've just snapped under the pressure."

But on Thursday, as more than 100 of Mr. Windsor's friends and relatives packed the courtroom, several of them told Judge Floyd that the former real estate investor had been suffering from mental illness and threatened to kill himself more than a year before the standoff.

"I truly believe ... that Bruce's primary intention that day was to commit suicide," said Tim Grant, a family friend who said he has gone to church with Mr. Windsor's family for more than a decade.

After his arrest, Mr. Windsor was evaluated at a federal prison facility. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is taking medication. Mrs. Windsor said her husband's mental state has been improving.

Addressing the court, Mr. Windsor apologized to the women he held hostage and told Judge Floyd he knew he should serve prison time.

"I'm sorry, and I want to accept whatever punishment is due," Mr. Windsor said.