Saying “please” and “thank you” is a virtue, but for a robber in Seattle, politeness went only so far. Enlarge This Image After a surveillance video showing Gregory Paul Hess robbing a Shell station appeared on YouTube, he was nicknamed the “polite robber.”
The video, recorded by surveillance cameras at the station, showed Mr. Hess, 65, asking the station owner, “Could you do me a favor? Could you empty that till for me, please?”
Drawing a pellet gun from his waistband, Mr. Hess said, “Sir, I’m robbing you.” He then apologized for taking the money and said he needed it to pay his rent, feed his children and pay other bills. He thanked the gas station owner profusely and promised to pay him back “if I ever get on my feet again, sir.”
The video gave Mr. Hess his moment of fame and helped the police identify him. His willingness to take responsibility for the crime — he pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery — made a favorable impression on the prosecutor.
But in delivering the sentence, Sharon Armstrong, a King County Superior Court judge, said, “I would like to be able to follow the joint recommendation, but I can’t. Mr. Hess, you committed robbery with what appeared to be a deadly weapon.”
She said that giving Mr. Hess a sentence in the midpoint of the range — 51 to 68 months — was enough to acknowledge his good attitude.
Kevin Dolan, the public defender, said his client’s crime was “largely, I think, a result of the economy.”
Mr. Hess told Elizabeth Mount, a law student intern who works with Mr. Dolan, that he had a degree from a culinary school — he likes to bake croissants — and that had enrolled in a hospitality management program at Seattle University
. But he despaired of finding work, he told her, because jobs were scarce and he had a criminal record: he served five years in federal prison for robbing five banks in Seattle and was still under federal supervision at the time of the robbery.
“He’s such a nice guy,” Ms. Mount said. “You kind of root for him because he’s very optimistic.”
She said she thought hospitality management “would be a great career for him because he’s so polite and accommodating.”
The gas station robbery, Mr. Hess told Ms. Mount, was a spur-of-the-moment act, inspired by his fear that he would be evicted from his apartment. He told investigators that he got $200 from the robbery. He used part of it to pay a cellphone bill and buy food and gas, and he deposited $90 in a savings account, according to court documents.
Mr. Hess is single, according to other court documents, and does not appear to have children at home to feed.
On a subconscious level, he told Ms. Mount, maybe he wanted to be caught. The surveillance cameras in the Shell station were obvious, and he left a fingerprint on the counter. When the police arrived at his door, he greeted them by saying, “I’m the one you are looking for.”
“I did everything but smile for the camera,” Mr. Hess told Ms. Mount, adding that he confessed because he is a Roman Catholic, and “part of being Catholic is the confession aspect.”
John Henry, the gas station owner, is also a religious man. A deacon at St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church
, he said his faith kept him from panicking during the robbery.
“When God wants to take your life, he will take it,” said Mr. Henry, who came to the United States from Egypt 19 years ago. “If you believe that, you can take it easy and you have peace.”
He said he felt bad for Mr. Hess and thought it was a pity that he had not been taught better survival skills during his previous incarceration.
Mr. Henry said he has also suffered the effects of the recession. He works six days a week, 10 hours a day. A new gas station across the street is cutting into his business, he said, and he is struggling to stay afloat.
Mr. Dolan said Friday that even though the judge ignored the sentencing recommendation, Mr. Hess was lucky.
“That’s about as good as it gets when you’ve committed a crime that five million people have seen,” he said.
He noted that Mr. Hess was also fortunate that the robbery had not been deemed a “third strike,” which would have sent him to prison for life without parole. “He’ll be out before he’s 70,” he said.
Even Mr. Hess seemed philosophical about his fate.
“I know what I did was wrong, and I did it anyway,” he said. “I deserve what I got.”
Kristen Millares Young contributed reporting.