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James Bruce, 74, prepares for Tampa bank robbery trials

Judge Gregory P. Holder said that if James Bruce’s defenders say he didn’t know what he was doing, prosecutors will be allowed to show similar behavior in two subsequent incidents.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Judge Gregory P. Holder said that if James Bruce’s defenders say he didn’t know what he was doing, prosecutors will be allowed to show similar behavior in two subsequent incidents.

TAMPA — James Bruce, 74, told police he thought he was asking for loans when he slipped three bank tellers notes demanding money.

But if he plans to tell jurors that same story, prosecutors will unleash evidence his attorney doesn't want them to see.

Bruce is scheduled to stand trial separately in each of three South Tampa bank robbery cases, beginning Jan. 10.

The first jurors will hear only about his first alleged robbery — unless defense lawyers try to convince them Bruce didn't know his actions added up to a crime.

If they open that door, a judge will allow prosecutors to introduce evidence of that same kind of behavior at the two later robberies. He used a fake name, police said, and told tellers to wait before sounding alarms.

Bruce's attorney, Jason Isaac, argued that allowing such evidence would prejudice the jury. But Circuit Judge Gregory P. Holder decided it would become relevant if the prosecution needed it for rebuttal against a "mistake" defense.

Surveillance cameras capture Bruce at the bank counters.

At his last court date, Bruce told the judge he wanted to accept a plea deal, but before the hearing was over, his attorney scheduled a trial date.

Prosecutors said Monday they have not withdrawn Bruce's deal and he can still accept it. They have not disclosed its terms. Legal experts say the deal likely does not involve prison time.

But if Bruce is convicted by a jury, he could get a maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each charge.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

James Bruce, 74, prepares for Tampa bank robbery trials 11/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 11:39pm]

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