SIOUX CITY | Even after having read court files and reports from probation officers and hearing explanations from attorneys, District Judge Jeffrey Neary said he still had a hard time understanding the case before him.
Why, he asked, would two young women who are good students and have strong family support come up with an elaborate plan to stage a bank robbery and get away with $10,000?
"I've never seen anything like this. There are kids in this world who would love to have half of what you have going for you," Neary said to Angelica Perez, who along with Heaven Zevenbergen had pleaded guilty last month to single counts of second-degree theft.
But despite the Sioux City women's spotless criminal histories and evidence showing that they were undergoing various types of counseling, Neary said he would be sending the wrong message to the community by giving them probation. In separate Woodbury County District Court hearings Wednesday, Neary sentenced each of them to five years in prison.
"This is going to be one of those lessons in life you're going to have to learn the hard way," he said to Perez, 18, who wiped away tears and sobbed softly as he announced her sentence.
About 45 minutes later, he repeated the message to Zevenbergen, 19, who broke down and cried "I love you so much" to her family as she was handcuffed and led from the courtroom sobbing.
On Aug. 15, Perez arrived at the Security National Bank branch at Hy-Vee, 2827 Hamilton Blvd., in disguise and passed Zevenbergen, who was a bank employee, a note demanding cash and saying she was armed. Zevenbergen then gave Perez $10,000.
Assistant Woodbury County Attorney James Loomis said Zevenbergen faked passing out to give Perez more time to escape. Perez mistakenly locked her keys in her car and had to hide the cash and her disguise in the Perry Creek ditch nearby. When the two returned later, most of the money was missing. Police have recovered approximately $600.
"It was a stupid, horrible mistake I wish every day I could take back," Perez said. "There's nothing I can say to take away the guilt, shame and regret I feel."
Perez' mother, Melissa Bates, told Neary that her daughter had been off her medication for depression at the time of the robbery, but has since resumed taking her medications and meets regularly with a counselor while balancing work and being a full-time college student.
"It was extremely out of character," Bates said of her daughter's involvement in the crime.
Zevenbergen's attorney, Jack Faith, said his client was raped by three men two years ago and became addicted to drugs as a result. She was high the day of the robbery, Faith said. Since her arrest, Faith said Zevenbergen has successfully completed a drug addiction treatment program and meets with mental health counselors for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Zevenbergen apologized to a bank official present at her hearing for all the trouble she caused the bank and its employees.
"Looking back now, I wish I could change what I did," she said. "To put it bluntly, what I've done has hurt my life and many other people's lives."
Neary ordered both women to jointly repay the $10,000 to the bank.