— A suspected bank robber who was told he couldn’t delay a court hearing until Ramadan is over has been granted a delay anyway after federal prosecutors learned the St. Peter Police Department had evidence they didn’t know about.
Mark Edward Wetsch, 50, was arrested Jan. 3 in St. Peter after he allegedly robbed $1,900 from a bank in Brewster. After receiving a report of that bank robbery, St. Peter police watched Highway 169 because they suspected the robber was someone Twin Cities media had dubbed “The Man in Black.”
The same man was a suspect in several bank robberies, including the Dec. 22 robbery of $3,600 from Wells Federal Bank in St. Peter. A St. Peter detective knew FBI investigators believed the suspect lived in the Twin Cities. So he told other officers to watch the highway because he believed the robber would be passing through St. Peter on his way home.
Wetsch was driving a vehicle that matched the description of a suspicious vehicle seen in Brewster. When he was stopped Jan. 3 in St. Peter, coincidentally within a few blocks of the bank robbed just days before, he allegedly had a large amount of cash and a fake gun with him.
His attorneys have filed a motion to have that evidence, as well as statements Wetsch made to authorities after his arrest, suppressed. They are arguing that police didn’t have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to make the stop and that Wetsch had asked for an attorney but wasn’t provided one before he was questioned.
A hearing for those motions and others had been scheduled for July 20 after Wetsch backed out of a plea deal in May. Wetsch has made three motions to have the hearing delayed since the July date was set.
A motion filed July 17 said Wetsch wanted to delay the hearing until after Aug. 18 because he is a practicing Muslim and he didn’t want the hearing to interfere with his praying and fasting during the holy month. Ramadan varies from year to year and Wetsch said he didn’t learn until July 13 that it would start July 19 and is expected to end Aug. 18 this year.
That motion was denied by federal Judge Jeanne Graham. Her ruling said attending a court hearing would not be a substantial religious burden for Wetsch.
“(Wetsch) certainly will be allowed to observe his first morning of fasting during the hearing,” Graham’s ruling said. “Further, the start time, 9:30 a.m., is well after sunrise prayer time and he will be allowed, of course, to pray at midday if he so chooses. The court hearing will conclude before any late afternoon prayer time.”
Wetsch’s attorneys filed a supplement to their motion on July 19, a day before the hearing. It said they had just learned from prosecutors that the St. Peter Police Department had video and audio recordings of Wetsch’s arrest. That information also was new to prosecutors, the supplement said.
“Unbeknownst to the government, the arresting officer’s squad car was equipped with a video camera,” it said. “The government was informed of the existence of the video shortly before they called defense counsel.”
The filing also said prosecutors had not yet watched the video because it was still in St. Peter. Copies also were being made for Wetsch’s attorneys, but those copies wouldn’t arrive in time for the hearing.
“They believe, as well, that one of the officers was wearing a microphone which recorded their interactions with Mr. Wetsch,” the supplement said. “The information contained in this video goes to the heart of the issues raised in Mr. Wetsch’s dispositive motions. It is imperative to his defense that he and his lawyers are able to review the video.”
This time Graham granted a delay and rescheduled the hearing for Aug. 27.
Wetsch is facing federal charges for robbing 13 banks in 2011, including the First National Bank in Gaylord on June 19. Nearly $9,000 was stolen from that bank.