Wednesday 26 October 2016

'Maths genius' jailed for armed robbery to return to Ireland

David Kearns

Published 15/06/2015 | 11:58

A US federal marshal escorts Niall Clarke to jail after he was sentenced for armed robbery
A US federal marshal escorts Niall Clarke to jail after he was sentenced for armed robbery

An award-winning Irish computer science graduate is set to return home, having spent the last nine years in a US prison following a failed armed robbery of a bank.

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A one-time high-achieving Trinity College student, Niall Clarke (36) made headlines in 2006 when he held up a bank teller and fled with almost €9,900 ($11,125) in the US state of Maine.

The Clare native from Kilrush was spotted by police however, and was arrested within minutes.

He later pleaded guilty and was sentence to 33 months in prison for the robbery and given a mandatory seven years for brandishing a firearm.

Mr Clarke is due for release next Monday (June 22), having been held in a federal prison in Rochester (Minnesota), and he is expected to be deported immediately, as the computer science graduate was in the US on a temporary visa when he carried out the robbery.

During his trial, details emerged that Mr Clarke suffered from a long history of mental illness but had refused treatment in Ireland.

Read More: Genius robber heard 'voices'

His own father, Michael Clarke, testified in court that he had tried to have his son committed but that he was not deemed a danger to himself or others by Irish officials.

"He was hearing voices that the bank had to be robbed. He said it was no longer himself that was in his body -- he had voices telling him that the bank had to be robbed," said Mr Clarke's solicitor Eugene O'Kelly after his trial.

"It certainly showed no criminal expertise. A child would have planned the robbery in a better way. It was a nonsensical attempt to rob the bank. He had no hope of successfully evading justice.

Niall Clarke from Kilrush, Co Clare
Niall Clarke from Kilrush, Co Clare

"He was in a very confined mall. It was ringed by state troopers. There was no prospect that he could get away with this but he still felt compelled."

Mr Clarke was given the most lenient sentence possible by the presiding judge, who recommended that he be allowed serve some of the sentence in Ireland.

This would would have only happened however if the 36-year-old had requested a transfer, which he did not.

Read More: Father denies abandoning jailed 'genius' son

Based on his conditions for being in the US, Mr Clarke should have been unable to purchase a firearm but he did with the help of a staff member at the Maine’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, who gave him a US driving licence after the pair met in a bar in Boston on St Patrick's Day.

Having purchased a handgun on October 3, the next day Mr Clarke, his head covered in a ski mask, entered a bank in the city of Bangor and demanded staff fill a bag with cash.

He shouted at employees and threatened the manager when she picked up a phone.

Bank staff took down his car registration as he walked out of the bank.

His criminal career ended minutes later when police spotted the getaway car and stopped him.

Officers found the loaded weapon, 25 rounds of ammunition in the glove compartment, and a bag filled with $11,125.

Following his arrest, it was revealed the Trinity graduate was in €20,500 debt.

Read More: Irishman to be sentenced for armed robbery in US

Just four years earlier Mr Clarke appeared to have the world at his feet.

He had won the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and been chosen to participate in the International Maths Olympiad. After college, he set up his own software engineering company.

But his family described how he later developed serious psychiatric problems and pushed them and friends away, despite their efforts to get proper psychiatric care from him.

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