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U.S. Supreme Court upholds enhanced sentence for N.C. bank robber

WASHINGTON (AP) —  In a unanimous opinion handed town Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a mandatory 10-year minimum prison term for a North Carolina man who was charged with forcing another person to accompany him while he tried to escape from the police after an attempted bank robbery.

Defendant Larry Whitfield was fleeing police after a botched robbery at a credit union in Gastonia. He entered the home of 79-year-old Mary Parnell through an unlocked door. Once in the house, Whitfield encountered the frightened woman and guided her from a hallway to a computer room. There, she suffered a heart attack and died. A jury convicted Whitfield for forcing Parnell to accompany him in the course of evading arrest for a bank robbery, among other charges.

At issue was whether the distance traveled matters in figuring out whether the provision applies. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said the several feet Whitfield and Parnell moved from one room to another was enough. Whitfield is serving a total sentence of 27 years.

The case is Whitfield v. United States.

Although he was the author of two of the court’s opinions, Scalia was not on the bench Tuesday morning when the decisions were announced. Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said the justice was stuck in traffic between his suburban Virginia home and the court. Chief Justice John Roberts read summaries of both cases in Scalia’s absence.

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