CATEGORY: Crime

AUTHOR: STAFF

HED:Judge orders three held without bond

From staff and wire reports

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A U.S. district judge on Thursday ordered three Florence men detained without bond in a Belmont, Miss., bank robbery and fatal Alabama carjacking case.

During a preliminary hearing in federal court in Huntsville, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul W. Greene ruled Benjamin Alan Armstrong, 20, and Jeffrey Wayne Best and Shawn Gregory South, both 19, should be detained on charges of bank robbery and conspiracy to commit carjacking and interstate transportation of a stolen motor vehicle.

Alabama, Mississippi and federal investigators are still following up leads to determine if a fourth person was involved in the bank robbery, carjacking and slayings.

An FBI affidavit released Wednesday suggests a 1991 movie, "Point Break," might have inspired the bank robbery and vehicle theft.

Best, Armstrong and South, who were arrested Tuesday evening, are charged in connection with the July 21 robbery of the Deposit Guaranty National Bank in Belmont and the carjacking of a black 1996 Chevrolet pickup, owned by Harold Pugh of Barton.

Pugh and his 11-year-old son Joey were found shot to death the day of the robbery in Cane Creek, where they had been fishing on Sunday.

Pugh's pickup, believed to have been the getaway vehicle in the bank robbery, was found burned on a remote road outside of Belmont shortly after the robbery.

Although authorities believe the Pugh slayings and the bank robbery are connected, no murder charges have been filed.

FBI Agent Ron Webb of Birmingham said Wednesday it was too soon to say if or when the three would be charged with murdering the Pughs.

We have enough to charge them with carjacking, and the bank robbery and interstate transportation of a stolen motor vehicle, and certainly that has something to do with the murders, but that's a state charge and that's up to the district attorney's office,'' he said.

A criminal complaint released Wednesday said an informant told the FBI the three Florence men watched the 1991 movie Point Break'' before concocting the plan to rob a bank.

Point Break'' is about a group of young men who rob banks using a black Chevrolet four-wheel-drive pickup truck to finance their lifestyle.

According to the complaint, the unidentified informant claimed Best told him his idea to steal the same kind of truck to rob a bank.

The informant said Best told him he had been shaking locked doors at banks to see how long it took police to respond to an alarm. The affidavit said Best told the informant it took police four minutes, and that he could rob a bank in three minutes flat.

The informant added that Best said Ben Armstrong and someone named Shawn would join them during the crimes. Best also showed the informant two sawed-off shotguns and two bullet-proof vests.

In the movie, criminals used sawed-off shotguns and wore bullet-proof vests.

The informant said Best was familiar with Cane Creek, where the Pughs' bodies were found. The Belmont bank is about a 30-minute drive from the creek.

The informant also noted that photos taken from the bank's surveillance camera match Armstrong and Best's physical descriptions.

Police are still searching for a fourth man, seen with the three shortly before the carjacking, but authorities did not say if that person would be charged.

Webb, Colbert County Sheriff Buddy Aldridge and Tishomingo County, Miss., Sheriff David Smith said their investigation is ongoing, but they need help locating ballistic evidence bullets, shell casings and weapons linked to the three.

No weapon was fired in the bank robbery, but the Pughs were killed execution-style, each shot twice at close range from the front. Authorities recovered a bullet from one of the bodies and spent shell casings were found after the robbery in the burning truck.

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