Charges against Robert Mehrten, the Clements resident accused of robbing the Bank of the West on East Highway 88 in Lockeford in January, have been dropped, according to a spokesperson for the San Joaquin Superior Court.
"The case was dismissed by the district attorney due to insufficient evidence," said Stephanie Bohrer, public information officer for the court, in an email.
The charges were formally dropped on April 7. However, the 52-year-old Mehrten has already spent several months in incarceration during trial proceedings. Mehrten was arrested Jan. 13 in Lockeford for the bank robbery. He was also charged with terrorist threats and reporting a bomb.
The Bank of West on East Highway 88 was robbed Jan. 13 by a suspect wearing a green jacket and straw hat who approached a teller with a handwritten note demanding money. The suspect told the teller he had a bomb, and dropped a woman's purse as he exited the building with $4,000.
The San Joaquin County Sheriffs department evacuated the bank and called in the bomb squad to handle the potential explosive. The purse was removed from the bank and destroyed. It did not contain an explosive device.
Two bank tellers who testified during his preliminary hearing selected Mehrten out of a printed lineup with six mug shots. But a third employee who was standing behind the teller being robbed selected a different person in the same lineup.
During the trial, the teller who received the note demanding $2,500 said Mehrten was the man responsible. However, she said during the cross-examination that all the mug shots shown to her looked drastically different from Mehrten.
Despite the accusations against him, Mehrten had a strong coalition of supporters who attended his trial hearings. At Mehrten's arraignment, attorney Doug Goss pointed to Mehrten's supporters as reason to reduce his bail from $225,000 to $100,000.
Todd Anderson, owner of the Old Corner Saloon, played a surveillance tape from the bar for a sheriffs investigator that showed Mehrten arriving there at 9:40 a.m. and staying for several hours.
Anderson said in a phone call Thursday he had reason to believe Mehrten didn't commit the robbery.
"(Mehrten) is missing a finger, and the guy who robbed the bank had all of his," he said.
Another Mehrten supporter wrote a letter published in the Lodi News-Sentinel titled, "Wasting time on an innocent man?"
The letter, authored by Clements resident Lynn Fernandes, said that Mehrten couldn't have been the bank robber because he had only two days worth of facial hair growth when he was apprehended. The actual robber, Fernandes said, had at least four days worth of facial hair growth in the bank's surveillance tapes.
"(Mehrten) should have been released with an apology," Fernandes wrote on Feb. 7.
The San Joaquin Sheriffs Department declined to comment on any possible leads on other suspects connected with the January robbery.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.