Trial date set in Eastgate bank robbery

Gabriel Cantu Leija is charged with robbing the AmericanWest Bank branch earlier this month.

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WALLA WALLA - The suspect in this month's robbery of the Eastgate branch of AmericanWest Bank pleaded innocent to a felony charge Monday in Walla Walla County Superior Court.

Gabriel Cantu Leija, 34, of 613 Fern Ave., is scheduled for trial starting Jan. 26 on the charge of first-degree robbery.

Police said Leija entered the bank at 1850 Isaacs Ave. with what appeared to be a handgun about 10:40 a.m. Dec. 1. He allegedly demanded money and made off with more than $1,300.

Officials believe he left in a nearby minivan, the license number of which was turned over to police by a witness. That led authorities to Leija's residence where the vehicle was parked. He was located at the home and taken to the police station for questioning.

Meanwhile, police closed off Fern Avenue between Whitman and Pleasant streets, surrounded the house and obtained a search warrant. Members of the Emergency Services Unit forced their way in shortly after 1 p.m.

Leija allegedly confessed to detectives during the interview at the police station, telling them he robbed the bank "because he needed money and was out of work," according to a police report filed in court. Leija reportedly said he displayed a plastic toy gun during the heist.

He was arrested and returned with officers to the residence where he told them where to find the money and clothing he was wearing when he committed the robbery, officials said.

In a closet, authorities located a plastic bag that contained $1,349, according to the police report. They also located the realistic-looking toy gun, a detective said.

Leija was booked into the County Jail. Bail was set at $100,000.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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