’Cooperate and you will live’: Police reveal robbery note, gun in CresCom double murder

Police found in Brandon Council’s car a treasure trove of evidence — including a pillowcase full of cash and a gun — that seemed to connect him to the robbery and double murder at the Conway CresCom.

Images of the items were shown to a jury on Thursday during the fourth day of Council’s federal death penalty trial in Florence. Forensic experts and an FBI investigator took the stand and discussed the evidence. They were the final witnesses called as the government rested its case.

It was revealed in a video shown Wednesday that Council bought a Mercedes with the money he took from the CresCom bank on Aug. 21, 2017. Before snatching money from the bank, Council shot teller Donna Major and bank manager Katie Skeen, he admitted in the video.

Investigators found the Mercedes in Wilson, North Carolina, soon after Council’s arrest on Aug. 23. They found a wallet, which included a note that read in part:

“This is a robbery. Give me the money $20,000,” the note stated. It warned not to trip the alarms and give denominations of $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. “Cooperate and you will live.”

Council’s lawyers said during opening statements earlier in the week that Council “inexplicably” pulled a gun out instead of the robbery note.

Also, inside the Mercedes’ trunk was a tied pillowcase that contained more than $10,000.

Other items in the trunk were a blue and white striped polo shirt that matched the one Council wore into the CresCom bank, and a pink Palmetto tree vanity plate.

Police also found a .22 revolver.

FBI firearm lab technician Doug Halepasko tested the gun against bullets removed from Skeen and Major. He initially told the jury the test bullets from the gun matched the ones taken from the victims.

But, defense attorney Duane Bryant objected, which led to a lengthy discussion. The Department of Justice and other cases made it clear that an expert could not testify the bullets match, Bryant argued.

Judge Bryan Harwell instructed the jury that an expert could not say they bullets matched and ordered the testimony stricken.

Halepasko then said the test bullets shared characteristics with those found in the victims.

The jury also saw videos the FBI compiled from various surveillance cameras inside the bank and from the Conway Express Inn, where Council stayed before the robberies.

The videos showed Council in and around his room several times in the days before the robbery. On Aug. 21, he left around 1:10 p.m. and walked down an alley towards the 16th Avenue CresCom branch. Seconds later he is seen on bank cameras approaching Major at the teller counter.

He waits for about 45 seconds, then shoots Major, who falls back. Council then runs into Skeen’s office, where he shot her while off-camera. Council then runs back to the front, jumps the counter and shoots Major again.

Council spent the next couple of minutes taking money from the bank and stole Skeen’s keys and her car.

About five minutes after the robbery started, Council is spotted back at the Conway Express Inn loading his bags into Skeen’s car. The car had the same pink Palmetto tree vanity plate that investigators found in the Mercedes.

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Alex Lang is the True Crime reporter for The Sun News covering the legal system and how crime impacts local residents. He says letting residents know if they are safe is a vital role of a newspaper. Alex has covered crime in Detroit, Iowa, New York City, West Virginia and now Horry County.