Federal trial begins for man accused in CresCom Bank double murder

Updated: Sep. 17, 2019 at 9:18 PM EDT
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FLORENCE, S.C. (WMBF) - The trial of a man accused of killing two women during a bank robbery in Conway began Tuesday morning at the federal courthouse in Florence.

Brandon Council is charged with murdering bank employees Katie Skeen and Donna Major during the robbery of the CresCom Bank on August 21, 2017.

Council appeared in court not wearing handcuffs. Instead, he wore a blazer and khaki pants and his dreadlocks were pulled back.

Family members of both victims, Skeen and Major, were also there for the first day.

The prosecution, which is seeking the death penalty if Council’s found guilty, began their opening statement by giving the jury a timeline of the events that took place on August 21.

The government told the jury that Skeen and Major were just obstacles to Council’s goal of easy money, continuously pointing at the defendant.

They said Council planned to kill someone that day, mentioning several times they had overwhelming evidence Council was guilty.

Council’s attorneys on the other hand didn't deny he killed the two women. Instead, they painted a picture of a desperate man with nothing to lose.

They said days before the incident, he bought cocaine, marijuana and alcohol, and even said Council thought he was going to die that day.

During testimony, the government called on six witnesses.

They led with Christy Johnson, the only other employee at the bank besides Skeen and Major on the day of the robbery.

She said she left around 12:45 p.m. that day for lunch and returned an hour later to find police taping off the bank.

She said she knew a robbery happened and was told by Conway Police that Skeen and Major died. She said she was kept at the bank until around 7 p.m.

Five more witnesses gave testimony including Conway police officer Jawanda Aklin. Aklin was the was first on the scene after the robbery.

She said she didn’t see anything suspicious at first circling outside the bank and only found Major’s body face down behind the tellers’ stations after she went inside.

She also said she didn’t see Skeen’s body before going outside to call for back up.

There was also expert testimony from security technology specialist Steven Collington, Horry County police crime scene investigator Dennis McClain Lewis and the bank’s security officer, Freda Gore.

Gore said security was alerted the day of the robbery when Council stole some “bait bills” or fake money that notifies law enforcement when removed from the cash drawers.

The last witness on Tuesday was now Conway Police Chief Dale Long.

Long was a detective at the time of the robbery.

He said a patrol sergeant found Skeen’s body underneath her desk in the back office. He also said Johnson noticed Skeen’s white Chyrsler was gone after the robbery.

On Tuesday, the jury was also shown surveillance video of what appeared to be Council entering the CresCom bank on August 21st, 2017 and up to Major who was working behind the tellers’ station that day.

A few minutes later, you can see Council pull out a gun and fire it at Major shooting her in the arm.

While there was no video showing Council shooting Skeen, one camera caught him running down the hallway toward Skeen’s office. Other cameras in the lobby show Council jumping back and forth over the tellers’ counter.

Evidence of documents showed more than $15,000 was taken.

There were also photos shown of Major’s and Skeen’s bodies taken at the scene.

Some of the victims' family members were crying and shaking their heads looking at them.

Prosecution also showed photos of finger and shoe prints as well as bullet fragments pulled from the victims' bodies.

As for Council, he remained emotionless throughout the entire testimony.

Testimony’s expected to continue Wednesday morning at the federal courthouse.

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