"Hat bandit" sentenced to prison

January 24, 2008 3:24:18 PM PST
A serial bank robber dubbed the "Hat Bandit" because he wore different ball caps during his heists was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in federal prison. James G. Madison, who eluded authorities during a 10-month crime spree, pleaded guilty in September to six of the robberies and acknowledged committing 12 others and attempting a 13th.

Federal sentencing guidelines suggested a 6½ to eight-year term, but prosecutors wanted more time for the 50-year-old former machinist.

U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares agreed. The judge noted the "voluminous number" of bank robberies by Madison, adding that some included the threat of a gun, although no weapon was ever displayed.

Wearing a green prison jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, Madison stood before the judge and expressed remorse for his crimes.

"I am deeply sorry for my actions and for the anxiety and stress I caused," he said. "I pray the court temper justice with mercy."

Madison's sentencing was delayed several hours after authorities mistakenly took him to the wrong courthouse.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shana W. Chen and Linares both referred to a four-page, type-written letter Madison sent Linares in advance of the sentencing in which the ex-convict spoke of his dream of someday living a "normal suburban life."

"He had a chance at a suburban life before he committed these bank robberies," Chen said, noting that Madison quit a job as a machinist that paid him more than $18 an hour in the months before the robberies started.

"He had a job and the skills to make a good living, but that wasn't enough," she said.

Madison eluded authorities from the fall of 2006 until late July 2007 despite being photographed several times on bank surveillance cameras. At various times during the robberies he wore baseball caps, ski caps and a fisherman's hat, earning him the nicknames the "Hat Bandit" and the "Mad Hatter."

Madison, of Maplewood, began his spree about a month after he was released from a halfway house after serving nearly 20 years in prison for the bludgeoning death of a girlfriend, Terry Wells. Her body was found in a suitcase in the Passaic River.

No one was injured during the robberies, which ended in July after a bank teller spotted the license plate on a getaway car. But Madison admitted that two of the notes he passed to tellers asserted he had a gun.

Federal authorities said the 19 crimes, which included an attempted robbery, represented almost 16 percent of the 120 bank jobs committed in New Jersey during the 10 months.

Madison might still be on the loose if he hadn't chosen to rob the Bank of America branch in Union Township last July 22.

He approached teller Steven Gomez and demanded $3,000. When Gomez' shock subsided and Madison began to walk out the door with the cash, the 21-year-old sprang into action and followed Madison outside the bank and through an alley, at one point removing his shirt so Madison wouldn't recognize him.

Eventually, Gomez was able to take down the license plate number of Madison's 2001 black Nissan Altima as it drove away. The Altima was traced to a woman who lived with Madison and the woman told investigators she had lent him her vehicle.

Even Madison's guilty plea produced drama. He was originally scheduled to plead guilty on Aug. 29, but appeared in court on that day and told Linares, "I do not wish to go through with it."

Thirteen days later, he went through with it.